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24th November Current Affairs

India is losing its cherished right to know

(GS-II: Statutory, regulatory and various quasi-judicial bodies)

In News:

The Central Information Commission’s (CIC) most important role is to decide whether particular information sought by a person should be disclosed or not.

However, the commission appears to have abandoned its core task in matters of greater public importance.

Background:

Citizens can file applications under the Right to Information (RTI) Act with any public entity and are guaranteed a response from that public body’s public information officer within 30 days.

If the citizen does not receive a response or is dissatisfied with the response, s/he may file an appeal at the departmental level, followed by a second and ultimate appeal with the Information Commission.

Each state has its own State Information Commission that handles second appeals involving state agencies. The CIC is in the centre.

Functioning of CIC as a transparent body:

The commission was an outspoken supporter of transparency in public life.

It had issued orders in a wide range of public-interest cases. For example,

Boldly declaring that political parties were subject to the RTI Act and thus accountable to the public.

Requiring disclosure of the current Prime Minister’s educational qualifications and the Reserve Bank of India’s list of wilful loan defaulters.

The 2019 amendment to the RTI Act:

Delegating its mandate to the Home Ministry:

The Commission has delegated matters of public concern to the Ministry, such as cases demanding disclosure of files related to the COVID-19 national lockdown or data pertaining to phone tapping orders.

In most cases, the Ministries reiterate their previous position of non-disclosure, usually on the vague grounds of national interest.

Violation of the cardinal rule of natural justice: No one should be a judge in their own cause. However, the Ministry that stands accused of violating the RTI Act decides whether a disclosure is necessary.

Huge pendency of cases fairly simple to adjudicate: For example, in a case seeking disclosure of documents relating to the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Amendment Act, 2019, the commission has kept the matter pending for more than three months now.

New hurdles to a citizen’s demand for accountability: As the disclosure of information in public-interest matters is denied.

Protection against irritants: Bureaucrats reject RTIs as they are not afraid of facing penal provisions outlined in Section 20 of the RTI Act.

Way ahead:

Citizens must exert intense pressure on authorities to appoint commissioners of integrity.

Lawyers must assist willing citizens in taking cases to court and seeking justice.

Conclusion:

There is a need for civil society and citizens to pressurise authorities to ensure transparency and neutrality of CIC. If they fail to do so, India will lose its cherished right to know.

New Electric Vehicle Batteries

(GS-III: Science and Technology)

In News:

Non-profit Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has collaborated with the Department of Science and Technology (DST) to create a platform for supporting the development of new electric vehicle (EV) batteries to suit Indian requirements.

Outline of the collaboration:

An expert-Industry platform for the development of new electric vehicle (EV) battery technologies

Assessing India’s need and climate stress for batteries

Application-specific batteriesg., Lithium-titanate for public transport; Sodium-ion for e-rickshaws

Recycling of batteries

Developing regulations for the in-use performance and durability of EVs and databases on performance and safety parameters

Initiative for EV safety:

New Safety tests for EVs

Infrastructure for testing and certification by the Automotive Research Association of India

BIS issues performance norms for Li-Ion batteries

Government steps for new batteries:

  • Faster Adoption and Manufacturing of (Hybrid &) Electric Vehicles in India (FAME India) 1 and 2 Scheme to promote the manufacturing of electric and hybrid vehicles
  • Department of Heavy Industry for implementation of the Production Linked Incentive (PLI) Scheme ‘National Programme on Advanced Chemistry Cell (ACC) Battery Storage
  • NITI Aayog released the draft battery swapping policy for Electric Vehicles (EVs)

The current deployment of Lithium-Ion Batteries (LIBs) in India is dominated by consumer electronics, which comprises smartphones, laptops, notebooks, and tablets.

Kuki-Chins

In News:

More than 270 members of the Kuki-Chin community from Bangladesh who entered Mizoram are being referred to as “officially displaced persons” in State government records, as India does not have a law on refugees.

Background:

According to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), foreign nationals who enter the country without valid travel documents are treated as illegal immigrants.

The MHA had said that State Governments have no powers to grant “’ refugee’ status to any foreigner” and added that India is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention of 1951 and its 1967 Protocol.

Kuki-Chins:

The Kuki people are an ethnic group native to the Mizo Hills (formerly Lushai) in India. They constitute one of several hill tribes within India, Bangladesh and Myanmar. The Chin people of Myanmar and the Mizo people of Mizoram are related tribes of the Kukis.  The Kuki-Chin is a Christian community from Bangladesh’s Chittagong Hill Tracts, which shares close ethnic ties with people in Mizoram.

Process of Inclusion in the ST List

In News:

Despite recommendations by a task force, the central government will continue to include communities in the ST list using the existing procedure.

Background of the Issue:

A task force constituted in 2014, headed by then-Tribal Affairs Secretary Hrusikesh Panda,  had called the existing procedure “cumbersome” and “time-consuming”, adding that it “defeats the Constitutional agenda for affirmative action and inclusion”. It noted that as many as 40 communities had been excluded from the ST list or were facing delays in inclusion due to the current procedure and criteria, and recommended their immediate inclusion.

The task force highlighted that the present system gives too much weight to the opinion of the Office of the RGI

What is the Process of Inclusion in the ST List?

The process to include tribes in the ST list begins with recommendation from the respective State governments, which are then sent to the Tribal Affairs Ministry, which reviews and sends them to the Registrar General of India for approval.

This is followed by the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes’ approval before the list is sent to the Cabinet for a final decision.