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17th January Current Affairs

Vote through postal ballot

(GS-II: Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act)

In News:

The Election Commission of India has allowed journalists to cast their votes through postal ballot facility.

Procedure to be followed:

Any absentee voter wishing to vote by postal ballot has to make an application to the returning officer in Form-12D, giving all requisite particulars and get the application verified by the nodal officer appointed by the organisation concerned.

Any voter opting for postal ballot facility would not be able to cast a vote at the polling station.

Currently, the following voters are also allowed to cast their votes through postal ballot:

  • Service voters (armed forces, the armed police force of a state and government servants posted abroad),
  • Voters on election duty,
  • Voters above 80 years of age or Persons with Disabilities (PwD),
  • Voters under preventive detention.

What is postal voting?

A restricted set of voters can exercise postal voting. Through this facility, a voter can cast her vote remotely by recording her preference on the ballot paper and sending it back to the election officer before counting.

Representation of the People Act, 1951:

This act provides for the actual conduct of elections in India. It deals with the following matters:

  • Details like Qualification and Disqualification of members of both the Houses of Parliament and the State Legislatures.
  • Administrative machinery for conducting elections.
  • Registration of Political parties.
  • Conduct of Elections.
  • Election Disputes.
  • Corrupt practices & Electoral offences.
  • By-elections.

Government response awaited on law on inter-faith marriages

(GS-II: Government Policies and issues arising out of their implementation)

In News:

The law that governs inter-faith marriages in the country, the Special Marriage Act (SMA), 1954, is being challenged for endangering the lives of young couples who seek refuge under it.


More than a year after a writ petition was moved before the Supreme Court, seeking striking down of several of its provisions, the government is yet to submit its response.

What’s the issue?

The petition has sought to quash section 6 and 7 of SMA, which mandates publication of the public notice, on the ground that it is unreasonable and arbitrary.

The petitioner argues that the 30-day period offers an opportunity to kin of the couple to discourage an inter-caste or inter-religion marriage.

What is Special Marriage Act of 1954?

The SMA is a law which allows solemnization of marriages without going through any religious customs or rituals.

People from different castes or religions or states get married under SMA in which marriage is solemnized by way of registration.

The prime purpose of the Act was to address Inter-religious marriages and to establish marriage as a secular institution bereft of all religious formalities, which required registration alone.

The SMA prescribes an elaborate procedure to get the marriage registered. It includes:

One of the parties to the marriage has to give a notice of the intended marriage to the marriage officer of the district where at least one of the parties to the marriage has resided for at least 30 days immediately prior to the date on which such notice is given.

Such notice is then entered in the marriage notice book and the marriage officer publishes a notice of marriage at some conspicuous place in his office.

The notice of marriage published by the marriage officer includes details of the parties like names, date of birth, age, occupation, parents’ names and details, address, pin code, identity information, phone number etc.

Anybody can then raise objections to the marriage on various grounds provided under the Act. If no objection is raised within the 30 day period, then marriage can be solemnized. If objections are raised, then the marriage officer has to inquire into the objections after which he will decide whether or not to solemnize the marriage.

Sixth mass extinction

(GS-III: Disaster and disaster management)

In News:

The ongoing sixth mass extinction may be one of the most serious environmental threats to the persistence of civilisation, according to new research.


Earth was once home to two million known species. According to the study, however, since 1500, as many as 7.5%-13% of these species may have been lost. That numbers anywhere from 150,000 to 260,000 different species.

What is the mass extinction of species?

Mass extinction refers to a substantial increase in the degree of extinction or when the Earth loses more than three-quarters of its species in a geologically short period of time.

So far, during the entire history of the Earth, there have been five mass extinctions.

Reasons and impacts:

The five mass extinctions that took place in the last 450 million years have led to the destruction of 70-95 per cent of the species of plants, animals and microorganisms that existed earlier.

These extinctions were caused by “catastrophic alterations” to the environment, such as massive volcanic eruptions, depletion of oceanic oxygen or collision with an asteroid.

After each of these extinctions, it took millions of years to regain species comparable to those that existed before the event.

What is the sixth mass extinction?

The sixth, which is ongoing, is referred to as the Anthropocene extinction.

Researchers have described it as the “most serious environmental problem” since the loss of species will be permanent.

Why it is attributable to humans?

One of the reasons that humanity is an “unprecedented threat” to many living organisms is because of their growing numbers.

The loss of species has been occurring since human ancestors developed agriculture over 11,000 years ago. Since then, the human population has increased from about 1 million to 7.7 billion.

Changes occurred and occurring:

More than 400 vertebrate species went extinct in the last century, extinctions that would have taken over 10,000 years in the normal course of evolution.

In a sample of 177 species of large mammals, most lost more than 80 per cent of their geographic range in the last 100 years, and 32 per cent of over 27,000 vertebrate species have declining populations.

Many of the species currently endangered or on the brink of extinction are being decimated by legal and illegal wildlife trade.

Several species of mammals that were relatively safe one or two decades ago are now endangered, including cheetahs, lions and giraffes. There are as few as 20,000 lions left in the wild, less than 7,000 cheetahs, 500 to 1,000 giant pandas, and about 250 Sumatran rhinoceros.

Vulnerable regions:

Tropical regions have seen the highest number of declining species. In South and Southeast Asia, large-bodied species of mammals have lost more than four-fifths of their historical ranges.

While fewer species are disappearing in temperate zones, the percentage is just as high or higher. As many as half of the number of animals that once shared our planet are no longer here, a loss described as “a massive erosion of the greatest biological diversity in the history of Earth”.

What happens when species go extinct?

Impact can be tangible such as in the form of a loss in crop pollination and water purification.

If a species has a specific function in an ecosystem, the loss can lead to consequences for other species by impacting the food chain.

Effects of extinction will worsen in the coming decades as the resulting genetic and cultural variability will change entire ecosystems.

When the number of individuals in a population or species drops too low, its contributions to ecosystem functions and services become unimportant, its genetic variability and resilience is reduced, and its contribution to human welfare may be lost.

For how long can an MLA be suspended?

(GS-II: Appointment to various Constitutional posts, powers, functions and responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies)

In News:

12 Maharashtra BJP MLAs have gone to the Supreme Court against their year-long suspension from the Assembly.


During the recent hearing, the Supreme Court observed that the suspension of MLAs for a full year is prima facie unconstitutional, and “worse than expulsion”.

The MLAs were suspended for misbehaviour in the Assembly pertaining to disclosure of data regarding OBCs.

What have the suspended MLAs argued?

In July 2021, Maharashtra Parliamentary Affairs Minister Anil Parab moved a resolution to suspend 12 BJP MLAs. The suspended MLAs argue that the suspension can only be made by the presiding officer under the rules of the house.

The petition has submitted that their suspension is “grossly arbitrary and disproportionate”.

The challenge relies mainly on grounds of denial of the principles of natural justice, and of violation of laid-down procedure.

The 12 MLAs have said they were not given an opportunity to present their case, and that the suspension violated their fundamental right to equality before law under Article 14 of the Constitution.

Procedure to be followed for suspension of MLAs:

Under Rule 53 of the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly Rules, the power to suspend can only be exercised by the Speaker, and it cannot be put to vote in a resolution.

Rule 53 states that the “Speaker may direct any member who refuses to obey his decision, or whose conduct is, in his opinion, grossly disorderly, to withdraw immediately from the Assembly”.

The member must “absent himself during the remainder of the day’s meeting”.

Should any member be ordered to withdraw for a second time in the same session, the Speaker may direct the member to absent himself “for any period not longer than the remainder of the Session”.

How does the state government defend its move?

Under Article 212, courts do not have jurisdiction to inquire into the proceedings of the legislature.

Article 212 (1) states that “The validity of any proceedings in the Legislature of a State shall not be called in question on the ground of any alleged irregularity of procedure”.

Under Article 194, any member who transgresses the privileges can be suspended through the inherent powers of the House.

Thus, the state government has denied that the power to suspend a member can be exercised only through Rule 53 of the Assembly.

Concern expressed by the Supreme Court over the length of the suspension:

The basic structure of the Constitution would be hit if the constituencies of the suspended MLAs remained unrepresented in the Assembly for a full year.

Article 190 (4) of the Constitution says, “If for a period of sixty days a member of a House of the Legislature of a State is without permission of the House absent from all meetings thereof, the House may declare his seat vacant.”

Under Section 151 (A) of The Representation of the People Act, 1951, “a bye-election for filling any vacancy shall be held within a period of six months from the date of the occurrence of the vacancy”. This means that barring exceptions specified under this section, no constituency can remain without a representative for more than six months.

Therefore, the one-year suspension was prima facie unconstitutional as it went beyond the six-month limit, and amounted to “not punishing the member but punishing the constituency as a whole”.

What are the rules on the length of suspension of a Member of Parliament?

Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Lok Sabha provide for the withdrawal of a member whose conduct is “grossly disorderly”, and suspension of one who abuses the rules of the House or willfully obstructs its business.

The maximum suspension as per these Rules is “for five consecutive sittings or the remainder of the session, whichever is less”.

The maximum suspension for Rajya Sabha under Rules 255 and 256 also does not exceed the remainder of the session. Several recent suspensions of members have not continued beyond the session.

Similar Rules also are in place for state legislative assemblies and councils which prescribe a maximum suspension not exceeding the remainder of the session.