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23rd December Current Affairs

Disruptions in Parliament

(GS-II: Separation of powers)

In News:

As Parliament adjourned sine die recently, the presiding officers of the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha expressed concern over the continuous disruption.

Performance of the houses:

Rajya Sabha utilised only 47.9% of its allotted time during the 18 sittings. Out of the total scheduled sitting time of 95 hours six minutes, the Rajya Sabha transacted only 45 hours of business.

The House performed “much below its potential” in this session, a situation that owed much to the suspension of 12 Rajya Sabha members at the beginning of the session for its entirety that pretty much drew the battle lines in Parliament deeper than before.

The Lok Sabha saw 83 hours and 20 minutes of business being conducted with 18 hours and 48 minutes of disruption.

What’s the issue?

Previously, even Chief Justice N.V. Ramana had complained about a lack of debate in Parliament. He said, it is a “sorry state of affairs” and that absence of quality debate leaves many aspects of the laws unclear, increasing the burden on the court.

What next?

Such comments should be viewed in the context of the functioning of legislatures marked by persistent disruptions, unruly behaviour and violent actions which have deleterious effects.

The best way to counter them is to ensure proper functioning of the legislatures by ensuring their dignity and decorum since such comments are finding resonance with the public from what they see about the functioning of the legislatures.

What’s the main concern now?

Disruption is replacing discussion as the foundation of our legislative functioning.

A PRS (PRS Legislative Research) report says during the 15th Lok Sabha (2009-14), frequent disruptions of Parliamentary proceedings have resulted in the Lok Sabha working for 61% and Rajya Sabha for 66% of its scheduled time.

Another PRS report said, the 16th Lok Sabha (2014-19) lost 16% of its scheduled time to disruptions, better than the 15th Lok Sabha (37%), but worse than the 14th Lok Sabha (13%).

The Rajya Sabha lost 36% of its scheduled time. In the 15th and 14th Lok Sabhas, it had lost 32% and 14% of its scheduled time respectively.

Reasons for Disruption:

  • Discussion on Matters of Controversy and Public Importance.
  • Disruptions May Help Ruling Party Evade Responsibility.
  • Lack of Dedicated Time for Unlisted Discussion.
  • Scarce Resort to Disciplinary Powers.
  • Party Politics.

What needs to be done?

To curb disorder in Parliament there is a need for strict enforcement of code of conduct for MPs and MLAs.

The Chairperson should suspend MPs not following such codes and obstructing the Houses’ business.

The government of the day needs to be more democratic and allow the opposition to put their ideas in free manner.

A “Productivity Meter” could be created which would take into consideration the number of hours that were wasted on disruptions and adjournments and monitor the productivity of the day-to-day working of both Houses of Parliament.

Conclusion:

Agreements and disagreements on issues may be reflected in debates and not through disruption” and the smooth conduct of the House was the responsibility of all stakeholders and must run with the collective will and consensus of all.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

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

In News:

Vodafone announced that it is auctioning the world’s first SMS as a non-fungible token (NFT). Now, the company has announced that a bidder has paid 107,000 euros for the replica of the first communication protocol of a short message, perpetuated as a NFT.

Details:

Vodafone will donate them to UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, to support the 82.4 million people who have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict and persecution.

The world’s first SMS:

It was sent almost three decades ago on December 3, 1992 through the Vodafone network. The SMS was received by Vodafone employee Richard Jarvis. “Merry Christmas,” the 15 character message read.

What is an NFT?

An NFT is a one-of-a-kind digital collectible. This means it is unique and can’t be replaced. These virtual tokens can be songs, movies, artworks, photographs, social media posts, GIFs and anything else that can be stored digitally.

About the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR):

It is a UN Refugee Agency and a global organization dedicated to saving lives, protecting the rights and building a better future for refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people.

It was created in 1950 to help millions of Europeans who had fled or lost their homes.

It is headquartered at Geneva, Switzerland.

Maharashtra government’s Shakti Bill

(GS-I: Women related issues)

In News:

A joint committee on Maharashtra government’s Shakti Criminal Laws (Maharashtra Amendment) Bill, 2020 has submitted its report.

Key recommendations made by the committee:

  • Capital punishment in rape cases.
  • Time-limit of 30 days to complete the probe since the day of registration of the complaint.
  • Onus on social media platforms as well as Internet data providing companies to share data for police investigation.
  • The original Bill did not have a provision for filing anticipatory bail plea in case of false complaints or if a person is harassed deliberately. The committee has decided to drop the recommendation.

What is the reason given by Maharashtra to bring in a new law?

An increase in the number of cases of violence, specifically sexual violence against women and children.

What does the draft bill proposes?

The draft Bill proposes to make changes to the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure and the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act.

The changes are proposed in existing sections of rape, sexual harassment, acid attack and child sexual abuse.

The Bill proposes death penalty in cases of rape, gang rape, rape by persons in authority, aggravated sexual assault of minors and in cases of acid attack when grievous injury is caused.

The death penalty is proposed in cases which are heinous in nature and where adequate conclusive evidence is available and circumstances warrant exemplary punishment.

Section 326 of the IPC applied in case of acid attack to be amended to make provision of minimum 15 years to maximum life imprisonment to the guilty along with monetary fine. The expenditure of plastic surgery and face reconstruction operations will be taken care from the monetary fine to be charged on the guilty.

Are there any specific provisions related to social media?

The draft Bill proposes an additional law to deal with abuse of women on social media.

Section 354E is added to include intentional acts creating “a sense of danger, intimidation, and fear to a woman” apart from insulting her modesty by any act, deed or words including offensive communication will be an offence with imprisonment and fine.

This also includes uploading morphed videos of women or threatening them with uploading of photos, videos which could defame, cause disrepute to them or violate their privacy.

Earlier, the provision of punishment in this regard was simple imprisonment up to one month or a fine of Rs 5 lakh or both. Now, the committee has increased the imprisonment up to three months and imposed a fine of Rs 25 lakh or both.

Provisions for “false” information and “implied consent”:

The Bill also makes provision for making a “false complaint” or provides false information in respect of offence committed stating that anyone who does that “solely with the intention to humiliate, extort or threaten or defame or harass”.

For this, the committee has proposed imprisonment not less than three years and up to three years and a fine of Rs 1 lakh. Earlier, the provision was simple imprisonment up to one year and a fine, which was not specified.

Centre disagrees with India’s rank on World Press Freedom Index

(GS-II: Transparency related issues)

In News:

The Centre has disagreed with India’s low rank on the World Press Freedom Index prepared by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

What’s the issue?

The government claimed that the report was based on a small sample size and gave little or no importance to the “fundamentals of democracy”.

India’s ranking in the index and the cause for concern:

In March, Reporters Without Borders had said that India ranked 142 out of 180 countries when it comes to press freedom.

It had added that the nation was classified as “bad” for journalism.

It had said that India was among the five most dangerous nations in terms of journalists killed across the world this year.

Also, the report had a “questionable methodology” for the survey. It lacked a clear definition of press freedom.

World Press Freedom Index 2021- Highlights:

Norway topped the index for the fifth year in a row.

The report labelled 132 countries as “very bad”, “bad” or “problematic”.

It stated that the pandemic was used as means to deny journalists this access and promote government sponsored propaganda regarding the Covid-19 outbreak.

Performance of India and neighbours:

India remained at the 142nd position among 180 countries.

India was ranked in the “bad” category, along with Brazil, Mexico and Russia.

The report says India is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists trying to do their job properly.

In 2016, India’s rank was 133, which has steadily climbed down to 142 in 2020.

India drew flak for “extremely violent social media hate campaigns” against journalists who “dare to criticise” the government.

In south Asia, Nepal was placed 106, Sri Lanka 127, Myanmar 140, Pakistan 145 and Bangladesh at the 152nd spot. China was ranked 177, and the US 44.

About World Press Freedom Index:

Published annually by Reporters Without Borders since 2002, the World Press Freedom Index measures the level of media freedom in 180 countries.

It is based on an evaluation of media freedom that measures pluralism, media independence, the quality of the legal framework and the safety of journalists.

It also includes indicators of the level of media freedom violations in each region.

It is compiled by means of a questionnaire in 20 languages that is completed by experts all over the world. This qualitative analysis is combined with quantitative data on abuses and acts of violence against journalists during the period evaluated.