News & Editorial Analysis 31 January 2023
The Hindu News Analysis
1 – Finance Commission:
GS II Topic Statutory and Non-Statutory Bodies
The process of forming the Sixteenth Finance Commission will soon get under way, and the Finance Ministry is anticipated to release the terms of reference for the constitutional body in the second part of this year. This group will be responsible with formulating recommendations for the allocation of revenues among the States and the Center.
The fifteenth finance commission was constituted in November 2017 and given the job of making ideas for the five-year period from 2020 to 21. The 15th FC’s term was prolonged by an additional year, concluding in 2025–2026, despite the Constitution’s mandate that a Finance Commission (FC) be constituted every five years.
The president receives recommendations from the Finance Commission, a quasi-judicial body, on how to divide financial resources between the union and the states.
The Finance Commission is appointed by the President every five years or as needed.
The parliament has the power to determine whether commission members are qualified, as stated in the constitution. Parliament also has the authority to determine how they should be chosen.
As a result, the President was given authority by the Parliament to choose the Chairman and the other panellists.
Members of the Finance Commission are also eligible for reappointment.
The duty of the Commission is:
The commission’s role is to provide the president with recommendations on:
on the allocation of the Union’s or each State’s respective share of the net tax revenues between the Union and the States.
Discusses the administration of grants-in-aid from state revenues to the Consolidated Fund of India.
Regarding the steps required to increase a state’s consolidated fund in order to assist the municipal and panchayat resources inside the state.
The President may refer the Finance Commission to any other topic. The report is given to both chambers of parliament by the President after being received from the Commission.
Borrowing power of the Union:
The Union must be granted unrestricted borrowing power, backed by Indian revenue, both inside and outside of India.
However, parliament occasionally imposes restrictions on the Union’s ability to use such power (article 292).
State borrowing authority:
A variety of constitutional limitations prevent the state from borrowing money:
Foreign borrowing is not permitted by the government.
As long as state revenues are assured, the state executive will have the power to borrow money inside the boundaries of India. These limitations apply to such borrowings:
Whatever limitations the state legislature lays down.
If the Union has guaranteed a State debt that is still owed, the State is not permitted to get a new loan without the Union Government’s approval.
In accordance with a statute passed by the parliament, the Union Government may lend money to a State.
2 – Electoral Bonds Scheme:
GS II Topic Election related issues
The Supreme Court will decide on January 31 whether or not petitions challenging the legitimacy of the electoral bonds scheme need to be sent to a Constitution Bench.
The accusations assert that the procedure has made it feasible for anonymous political donations to be made days before elections. They have been waiting for around eight years.
State Bank of India has the option to both issue and redeem these bonds.
Election bonds are purchased by donors in an anonymous way, and they expire 15 days after being issued.
They can be bought as debt instruments from a bank by donors, who can subsequently redeem them through the political party.
These can only be redeemed by a pre-approved person who deposits the money into a specific bank account.
Bonds from SBI are available in values of 1000, 10,000, one lakh, ten lakh, and one crore rupees.
Any Indian citizen may acquire the bonds for a total of ten days in each of the months of January, April, July, and October, as defined by the Central Government.
Eligibility: Only political parties registered under Section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, and who received at least 1% of the vote in the most recent general election for the House of People or the Legislative Assembly are eligible to purchase electoral bonds.
Why Has India’s Concern With Electoral Bonds Increased?
Contradicting its Core Principle: The electoral bonds programme is mostly criticised for accomplishing the exact opposite of what it set out to do, which was to enhance transparency in election spending.
For example, some claim that the anonymity of electoral bonds only applies to the general public and the competing parties.
Due to the fact that these bonds are sold through a government-owned bank (SBI), the government has access to information about the funders of its rivals.
As a result, the current administration has the power to penalise businesses for declining to give to the ruling party or demand money, especially from huge enterprises, providing the latter an unfair advantage.
Through an amendment to the Finance Act of 2017, the Union government has exempted political parties from disclosing donations obtained through electoral bonds.
This suggests that voters won’t be informed about who, what, or how much has been giving to which party.
In a representational democracy, voters pick the people who will represent them in Parliament.
Making a Right to Know Compromise According to Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, the “right to know,” particularly in regard to elections, is a key element of the right to free expression, the Indian Supreme Court has long ruled.
Those who are against free and fair elections
Election-related bonds provide no information to the public.
The current administration is exempt from the aforementioned anonymity because it can always seek data from the State Bank of India to obtain donor information (SBI).
This implies that the current administration might exploit this information to thwart fair elections.
The electoral bonds programme, which removes all prior constraints on political donations and essentially allows wealthy companies to pay campaigns, is what makes crony capitalism viable.
A “crony capitalism” economic system is characterised by close, mutually advantageous relationships between political and commercial elites.
How to Proceed:
Effective control over political fundraising is required, in addition to significant reforms, to break the never-ending cycle of corruption and the erosion of democratic polity.
It is crucial to close the legal gaps now present in order to promote accountability and openness throughout the entire governmental system.
Voters can also make a difference by supporting awareness initiatives that lead to substantial advancements.
Voters rejecting politicians and parties who engage in excessive spending or bribery would promote democracy.
3 – Attorney General of India:
GS II Topic Constitutional & Non-Constitutional Posts
Attorney General R. Venkataramani expressed grave concerns over petitions filed against the religious conversion laws of various States to the Supreme Court on Monday.
“These state statutes are currently being heard by the State High Courts. Even though there are outstanding cases before the Supreme Court, the same petitioners have recently filed new petitions there. I vehemently object to it” Mr. Venkataramani spoke in front of a bench presided over by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud.
The Indian Attorney General is a member of the Union Executive (AG). The AG is in charge of all law enforcement in the nation.
Article 76 of the Constitution creates the office of the Attorney General of India.
The President appoints an AG based on a recommendation from the government.
He or she must fulfil certain criteria in order to be appointed as a Supreme Court justice, including being an Indian citizen and having worked as a high court judge for five years, a high court advocate for ten years, or a well-known jurist in the President’s decision.
The duration of the position is not specified in the Constitution.
Removal: The Constitution provides no reference to the procedures or reasons for the removal of the attorney general. He or she works as desired by the President (may be removed by the President at any time).
Tasks and functions:
-To advise the President on any legal matters that the Government of India (GoI) refers to her or him.
-To carry out any additional legal responsibilities assigned by the President.
-To represent the Government of India in all High Court and Supreme Court cases that the Government of India is involved in.
-In any matter where the President requested the Supreme Court’s opinion in accordance with Article 143 of the Constitution (the President’s right to consult the Supreme Court). to speak on behalf of the GoI.
-To carry out the responsibilities outlined in the Constitution or another piece of legislation.
Rights and Restrictions:
He or she is allowed to speak, take part in both Houses of Parliament meetings or their combined session, and serve on any committee of the Parliament even though they are not allowed to vote.
He or she is qualified for all the benefits and immunity granted to lawmakers.
He or she is not employed by the government. It is not against the law for him or her to practise law in private.
However, s/he shouldn’t offer suggestions or submit a brief opposing the GoI.
The Additional and Solicitor General of India provides support to the Attorney General of India in the performance of her official duties.
Advocate General’s office for correspondence in the United States (Article 165).
4 – Death Sentence:
GS II Topic Judiciary related issues
The Sessions Courts in India, according to a study, executed 165 persons in 2022, the highest in a calendar year in the previous 20 years. The report did note that the “extraordinary sentencing of 38 persons to death in Ahmedabad in a single bomb blast case, representing the greatest number of persons put to death in a single case since 2016” can be blamed for this rise in the figure.
The death penalty is what?
Capital punishment is the most severe form of punishment. It is the punishment imposed for the most heinous and terrible acts against people.
People who commit specific crimes mentioned in the Indian Penal Code may be given the death penalty: in Section 302
Murder and corruption (Section 396), criminal coordination (Section 120B), waging war against the Government of India (Section 121), putting down mutinies (Section 132), and other offences are covered.
According to Article 72 of the Indian Constitution, the President has the authority to reduce the sentence to life in prison or give a pardon, even though the announcement of the sentence does not always entail execution. Sometimes, the terms “death penalty” and “capital punishment” are used synonymously.
What justifications are there for the death penalty in India?
Retribution: Retribution is the idea that someone is punished because they deserve it and that the death penalty is necessary to ensure justice for the victims, their families, and/or society as a whole.
The phrases “an eye for an eye,” “the punishment should fit the crime,” and “the sentence should be a moral response to the act” are occasionally used by advocates of the death penalty.
Legally mandated procedure: Article 21 of the Indian Constitution states that everyone has a basic right to life and freedom.
It further emphasises that someone’s life or personal freedom may only be taken away in line with legally established procedures.
This has been legally understood to imply that the state may take someone’s life by passing a law if there is a just and legitimate mechanism to do so.
Deterrence is the most often given defence for the death penalty. The theory’s central thesis is that “violent crime decreases in the presence of executions.”
This implies that a significant proportion of people will refrain from carrying out a terrible crime they might otherwise undertake just because they fear being put to death in the future.
Safety and welfare of the populace: In a democratic nation like India, the state is responsible for preserving public security, safety, and trust in the legal system.
Because social justice is mentioned in the Preamble of the Indian Constitution, the argument that the state has a moral obligation to ensure the welfare and safety of its citizens is commonly used to defend the death sentence.
What defences are there against the death penalty in India?
Distracting from Punishment’s Goal: The death penalty does not contribute to the primary objective of punishment, which is the rehabilitation of offenders.
The accused’s punishment is intended to allow him to return to society and participate as a law-abiding citizen.
Retaliation and Its Immorality Retaliation, according to those who oppose the death sentence, is just a more sophisticated form of revenge and is therefore ethically wrong.
Additionally, there is conflicting evidence that the death penalty deters crime, notably rape, according to data gathered globally.
In rape cases, the death penalty has been permitted since 2013 (Section 376A of the IPC). Rapes yet continue to happen, and in fact, their brutality has increased. This compels one to question whether the death sentence actually works to prevent crime.
Reciprocation of Cultural Violence: Critics of the death penalty assert that it does nothing to stop the pervasive cultural violence that still exists in society.
Turn a Blind Eye to Societal Failure Hang till death ignores the “societal failings” and only considers the rapist’s “individual failure.”
People who oppose capital punishment think that by killing a rapist under political duress, society is absolved of its obligations and the duty to make society safer for women.
According to government statistics, the bulk of death row inmates in India come from lower socioeconomic groups, and 74.1% of them are economically underprivileged based on their occupation and landholding.
Execution of the Innocent: One argument against the death sentence is the possibility that innocent people could be killed due to mistakes or flaws in the legal system.
What are the most well-known death penalty cases in India?
Jagmohan Singh v. State of UP, a 1973 case: According to the Supreme Court’s decision, Article 21 of the Constitution permits the taking of human life as long as it is done in line with the proper legal procedure.
Bachan Singh v. State of Punjab, a 1979 case: The Supreme Court determined in this case that the death sentence should only be used in the most extreme cases.
Machhi Singh v. State of Punjab, a 1983 case: A case must meet a few requirements laid out by the Supreme Court in order to be considered one of the rarest of the rare.
The two issues that must be resolved before applying the death penalty in particular situations were outlined by the Supreme Court.
First, consider if the offence was so heinous that only one punishment was possible.
In response to criticisms of the way courts carry out the death penalty, the Supreme Court has taken the initiative to evaluate the process. The supreme court will consider formulating guidelines for determining mitigating circumstances in situations where the death penalty is appropriate.
The SC stated that the accused must have a meaningful, real, and effective hearing as well as the chance to offer testimony relevant to the proposed sentence.
The Supreme Court further urged that in situations involving the death penalty, the convict’s social background, age, and educational attainment be taken into account.
Prior to deciding whether the death sentence should be used or not, consideration should also be given to the convicted person’s post-conviction behaviour and psychological experiences.
Not only the offender should be stopped, but the crime itself as well. If criminal law is regarded from a larger perspective, the aim of punishment is to further the goals of a lawful society. By balancing the conflicting rights of the offender and the victim, it is necessary to achieve the restoration of peace and prevent further criminal activity.
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The Hindu Editorial Analysis
Tax On Tobacco Products
Adam Smith asserted in his well-known book The Wealth of Nations that commodities like sugar, rum, and tobacco are widely consumed and are hence appropriate for taxes even though they are not necessary for existence. Studies from India and other nations support the use of levies to reduce tobacco use.
Pricing of tobacco products in India:
However, since the Goods and Services Tax (GST) was imposed in India more than five years ago, the country’s cigarette prices have not increased significantly, making these products increasingly more widely available.
Although India only collects 537.5 billion in tobacco taxes annually on average, the economic toll and medical expenses related to tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure was 2,340 billion in 2017, or 1.4% of GDP.
Despite the government’s desire to build India’s economy to $5 trillion, this objective is threatened by the growing accessibility of tobacco and may have a detrimental effect on GDP growth. Additionally, smoking-related mortality in India might reach 3,500 per day, which has a negative impact on GDP growth and human capital.
The issues with the tax system:
There are aspects of the GST system that govern tobacco taxes in India at the moment that make it challenging to limit use.
The Goods and Services Tax (GST), a value-added tax, is levied on the majority of goods and services that are offered for domestic use. Consumers are responsible for paying the GST, but it must be paid to the government by the companies who offer the goods and services.
The 101st Constitutional Amendment Act of 2016 brought in GST to India. States now have the power to impose taxes on goods and services thanks to the addition of Article 246A.
A central GST to cover excise duty, service tax, etc.; a state GST to cover VAT, luxury tax, etc. were the three various versions of GST that were adopted. The integrated GST will apply to interstate trade. The IGST is not a tax in and of itself; rather, it is a mechanism for harmonising state and union taxes.
Additionally, Article 279A was introduced, which requires the President to designate a GST Council to manage and supervise the tax. Its chairman is the Union Finance Minister of India, while its members are state government-selected ministers. The way the council is set up gives the states a 2/3 majority and the centre a 1/3 majority. Making a decision requires a 3/4ths majority.
Absurdly high ad valorem taxes:
To decrease consumption, these are ineffective. Numerous countries levy separate or combined taxes on dangerous goods. The GST system in India lays more emphasis on ad valorem taxes than the previous system did, which predominately used specific excise taxes. Many countries that apply a GST or VAT also tax tobacco products with an excise tax.
A significant amount of the compensation cess and the National Calamity Contingent Duty, or NCCD, are currently levied on cigarette goods (it is imposed as an excise duty on certain manufactured commodities listed under the Seventh Schedule of the Finance Act, 2001). If certain taxes are not frequently adjusted to account for inflation, they lose their value. Any specific tax rates imposed on tobacco products should be indexed for inflation.
Variations in how commodities are taxed:
Even though cigarettes make up 80% or more of tobacco taxes, only 15% of smokers are actual smokers. The use of bidis and smokeless tobacco is encouraged by low tariffs. No cigarette product is more or less hazardous than the others, hence taxes on all tobacco products ought to be applied more consistently. Taxes on tobacco should be based on preserving public health.
Bidis are the only tobacco products immune from a compensatory cess under the GST, despite being just as lethal as cigarettes. There is no link between the lack of a cess on bidis and public health.
The intricate, six-tiered cigarette tax system that now exists gives cigarette companies the chance to legally avoid taxes by altering the lengths and filters of cigarettes for brands with the same names. A two-tiered structure that can eventually be eliminated to form a single tier should take the place of the current tiered system.
The GST rate varies for some ingredients used to create smokeless tobacco, including tobacco leaves, tendu leaves, betel leaves, areca nuts, etc., from 0% to 5% to 18%. It is essential to place all items in the same 28% GST rate that are used exclusively in the manufacturing of tobacco. By doing this, the right public health message—that consuming tobacco products is dangerous and ought to be avoided—will be communicated.
Due to the small retail pack size (usually 1/2 gramme or less), smokeless tobacco products are not effectively taxed in India. To standardise and increase the retail price, mandatory standardised packaging for smokeless tobacco pouches needs to be implemented (at least 50 g-100 g). This will also make it easy to provide illustrative health warnings on packaging.
Exemptions for small businesses:
Small businesses are now exempt from the GST if their yearly sales are under 40 lakh. Many makers of bidi and smokeless tobacco are found in the unofficial sector, which reduces their tax bases.
Despite the fact that these exceptions are intended to protect small businesses, the public health argument requires that they not be applied to companies who produce or distribute tobacco products. Therefore, limitations should be imposed on these exemptions to stop cigarette manufacturers from abusing them.
The production of state income
Prior to the GST, state governments could increase revenue and reduce consumption by taxing cigarettes. For instance, in Rajasthan, tobacco products were subject to a 65% VAT. Because of GST, states are unable to raise tobacco taxes, which restricts their ability to collect revenue and regulate usage. Even if a single, universal national tax is advantageous, the public’s health will suffer if it is not routinely increased at the federal level.
India hasn’t increased tobacco product levies in over five years, which is concerning because most countries often do so to make the products more expensive. The improvements obtained during the 17% drop in cigarette use from 2009–10 to 2016–17 may be significantly undone by this.
The GST Council and the Union Budget should both take advantage of the opportunity to significantly boost taxes on all tobacco products, including bidis, cigarettes, and smokeless tobacco, through increases in excise charges or compensating cess.
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The Indian Express Editorial Analysis
India aims to have a $10 trillion GDP by 2035. The population Census, which was supposed to take place in 2021 but has been postponed indefinitely due to Covid, must be conducted in order to accomplish this.
India has held censuses continuously since 1881, with the unusual exceptions of Assam in 1981 and Jammu & Kashmir in 1991 because of sociopolitical unrest and secessionist movements. India has taken pride in conducting routine censuses at the subnational and national levels. It must continue till India has a solid civil registration system and national demographic register.
Why has a census become a prerequisite for economic expansion?
There are several explanations for why holding a Census has turned into a prerequisite for economic development.
The main challenge demographers, planners, and other stakeholders today face is how to estimate the district population, which is the primary administrative unit for governing, planning, and implementing government programmes and schemes.
In the absence of current Census data, demographers estimate the annual population count at the district level using prior Census data for the intercensal or postcensal era.
The population of a district in India in 2015 is predicted using the district-level population growth rate between the 2001 and 2011 Censuses.
Such demographic exercises produce estimates that are reasonably accurate when the population estimation year is within a range of no more than 10 years.
Beyond this point, estimates could be wrong due to the dynamic patterns of numerous population components, including migration, mortality, and fertility, especially at the district level.
Districts must change for better planning and welfare programme execution:
Numerous Indian areas are experiencing a rapid demographic transition as a result of variable fertility and mortality rates.
By extrapolating the growth rate from 2001 to 2011 to the years beyond 2021, a model that relies more on assumptions than on empirical fact is produced.
The scenario gets even more difficult as Covid-19 affects the nation’s fertility and mortality rates.
Since many states (and districts) lack a full civil registration system that includes a complete count of birth and death data, demographers have a very difficult time producing population counts at the district level.
Estimates usually fall far short of reality for the aforementioned reasons, especially for recently established states and districts.
Migration data gathered by the Census has substantial effects on social cohesion and economic activity:
As India’s economy has grown, its migratory patterns—both domestically and internationally—have seen considerable changes.
For instance, even in smaller towns and cities, job patterns have changed.
The migration patterns in India for the last ten years are very different from what the data from the 2001 and 2011 Censuses indicate. Due to the paucity of Census data, it is difficult to draw generalisations about migration in India.
The census helps us comprehend India’s diversity better:
Regardless of location, class, colour, creed, religion, language, caste, marital status, number of people with disabilities, occupation, etc., everyone is counted in the census.
Most national-level surveys, including the NFHS and NSSO, lack representative data at the level of demographic subgroups, in contrast to the Census.
The existence of different religions and languages, as well as the expansion or contraction of such communities, can only be determined by a population census.
Planning at the village or block level requires census data in order to foster economic and social development, provide better governance, and boost the transparency of governmental plans and initiatives.
The population census is a significant task, but it is necessary for effective government operation.
But the Census is crucial because it forms the basis for all of the government’s objectives and initiatives. Any delay in the Census will have negative immediate and long-term implications on India.
The government and other stakeholders should move swiftly in order to conduct the Census as soon as is practical.
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