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30th December Current Affairs

Remote voting for migrant workers: The plan the Election Commission of India (EC) has outlined

(GS-II: Powers, Functions and Responsibilities of various Constitutional Bodies)

In News:

The EC announced that it has developed a prototype for a Multi-Constituency Remote Electronic Voting Machine (RVM), amid concerns over migration-based disenfranchisement, to boost voter turnout and strengthen India’s democratic process.

Background – The problem of migration-based disenfranchisement:

While registered voters do not end up voting for a variety of reasons, domestic migration – is driven by marriage, natural disasters, employment, etc.

As per the 2011 census, there are nearly 45.36 crores (forty-five point three six) migrants in India (both intra and interstate) – nearly 37% of the country’s population.

These migrants are unable to travel to vote, denying a large chunk of the population its franchise, going against the EC’s motto – “No voter left behind”.

The EC had formed a Committee of Officers on Domestic Migrants, which recommended (in 2016) internet voting, proxy voting, early voting and postal ballots for migrant workers (rejected due to concerns like lack of secrecy of the vote, the lack of sanctity of one person one vote principle, issues of accessibility, etc.)

Thus, a technological solution was proposed which allows voters to vote remotely, in a safe and controlled environment.

The proposed solution – Remote EVMs:

RVMs were developed by Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) and the Electronics Corporation of India Limited (ECIL).

The RVMs are stand-alone, non-networked systems, allowing voters from multiple constituencies to vote using the same machine.

They will be set up in remote locations outside the state under similar conditions as current polling booths.

Unique feature of RVMs:

A single Remote Ballot Unit (RBU): To cater to multiple constituencies (as many as 72) by using a “dynamic ballot display board” instead of the usually printed paper ballot sheet on EVMs.

Ballot Unit Overlay Display (BUOD): It will show the requisite candidates based on the constituency number read on the voter’s Constituency card, which can be read by a barcode scanning system.

The voting process:

After verifying a voter’s identity, their constituency card will be read with a public display showing the constituency details and candidates.

This will also be displayed privately (on the BUOD in the RVM’s RBU) and the voter will then vote and each vote will be stored constituency-wise in the control unit.

The voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT) system is expected to work along the same lines as the new technology.

Concerns:

The system has issues, some of which the EC has itself acknowledged. For example,

Migrants are not a uniform and defined class, with fluid identities, locations and situations.

As various countries reject EVMs for paper-based ballots, this move may have the potential to raise further questions on the sanctity of the electoral process itself.

Remote voting can theoretically provide an added edge to bigger parties and richer candidates who can campaign across the constituency and beyond.

Way ahead:

Resolving these issues will require wider consultations with various legal and political stakeholders.

Conclusion:

The EC has invited all recognised eight national and 57 state political parties on January 16 to demonstrate the functioning of the RVM and has asked for their written views by January 31.

The Webb telescope is just getting started

(GS-III: Space Technology)

In News:

It was launched one year ago on a mission to observe the universe in wavelengths no human eye can see. With a primary mirror 21 feet wide, the Webb is seven times as powerful as the Hubble Space Telescope, its predecessor.

About James Webb Telescope:

James Webb Telescope is an international collaboration between NASA, European Space Agency (ESA), and the Canadian Space Agency.

The telescope uses infrared light, which cannot be perceived by the human eye, to study every phase in cosmic history.

Mission objectives:

It will help in a broad range of investigations across the fields of astronomy and cosmology.

It will help to understand the origins of the universe, the evolution of our own Solar System, and search for signs of life on faraway planets.

It can also analyze the atmospheres of exoplanets that pass in front of their stars.

It will look at a large number of things in the universe including icy moons, distant exoplanets and galaxy clusters.

Land Subsidence

In News:

The town of Joshimath (Uttrakhand) has been sinking for decades ( first highlighted by the 1976 state government-appointed Mishra Commission report)

Details:

An expert panel (set up by the Uttarakhand government) has now confirmed that structural defects in Joshimath have been caused by Land subsidence.

Impact: The increased Land subsidence in the past two years has caused cracks in homes, rendering them unstable and prompting people to flee.

Reasons for landslides in Joshimath:

The town is situated in the old landslide zone and is close to the tectonic discontinuities in the Himalayas.

Anthropogenic pressures: Roads, heavy tourism, and buildings of dams, are more than the carrying capacity of the geology of the place.

About Joshimath:

The town of Joshimath ( in Chamoli district) has been a centre of faith, and a spiritual getaway in the mighty Himalayas.

Located on National Highway 7, at a height of 6,150 feet, it is the doorway to the holy shrines of Badrinath (part of Char Dhams) and Hemkund Saheb (a holy Sikh Shrine), and the picturesque Valley of Flowers (a UNESCO world heritage site), and Auli (a popular tourist destination).

Strategic significance: It is home to the Joshimath Cantonment, the permanent station of the Garwhal Scouts, close to the Indo-Tibetan Border.

What is land subsidence?

Land subsidence is a gradual settling or sudden sinking of the Earth’s surface due to the removal or displacement of subsurface earth materials.