Topic 1 : Kerala’s contributory pension scheme
Why in news: A report from a Kerala government-constituted committee, to review the state’s contributory pension scheme, has been made public now after a Supreme Court verdict.
- The three-member committee was formed in 2018 to examine the legal and financial consequences of revoking the contributory scheme, which was implemented in Kerala in 2013.
- The report was submitted to the government in 2021 but was not made public until the court intervened.
What is the National Pension System?
- The contributory pension scheme or the NPS was introduced by the Union Government in 2004.
- Apart from the Central government employees, it covered employees in many states over the years.
- As per the NPS Trust, 39 states/ UT have implemented the NPS over the last two decades, mostly before 2010.
- Kerala introduced NPS in April 2013.
- Under it, a fund is created from the contributions of employees and employers during the course of employment.
- This was not the case in the earlier scheme, which promised a fixed amount of last drawn salary (50 per cent) as pension after retirement and was funded by the government via taxpayers.
- In the case of NPS, the employee purchases an annuity scheme at retirement, with the fund standing in her name and that annuity becoming the pension.
- When the scheme was introduced in 2004, the employee’s pension contribution was 10 per cent of the salary and allowances by the employee, and an equal contribution by the government.
- In effect, it was around 18 per cent of the gross salary.
- In 2019, the Central government raised its share in the contribution to 14 per cent, which raised the share to 21 per cent of gross salary for an individual level.
What is Kerala’s pension scenario?
- In cash-strapped Kerala, the rising pension liability has been putting pressure on the state’s total revenue receipts.
- A high life expectancy in the state after the retirement age, particularly in relation to the number of years of service an employee, is also an important factor.
- In Kerala, the retirement age of state employees was 56 previously.
- The state budget for fiscal 2023-24 said it is estimated to spend Rs 94,649 crore on committed expenditure, which is 70 per cent of its estimated revenue receipts.
- Committed expenditure of a state typically includes expenditure on payment of salaries, pensions, and interest.
- This comprises:
- spending on salaries (30 per cent of revenue receipts),
- pension (21 per cent), and
- interest payments (19 per cent).
Arguments for NPS in Kerala according to the review report:
- The review committee report has not advised revoking the pension scheme.
- At the same time, there is no legal barrier to revoking the scheme.
- Although the agreements signed by the Kerala government with the NPS Trust and the National Securities Depository Limited (NSDL) do not have exit clauses, there is nothing in them to prevent the government from abrogating the agreements.
- The report said that continuing the NPS would result in a reduction of pension outgo as a share of total revenue receipts of the state government from 2040.
- It also suggested that the contribution of the state government to the contributory pension scheme be raised from 10 per cent to 14 per cent and dearness allowance to 14 per cent – as already done by the Central Government and various states.
- It wanted death-cum-retirement gratuity to be allowed for employees who joined the contributory pension scheme.
Argument against NPS in Kerala
- Those who retired under the NPS have said they are getting paltry annuities.
- Given that the contributions under NPS are invested in various assets that can be chosen from, there is the danger of the asset value of the investment falling drastically in case of a stock market crash is real.
- In the statutory pension scheme, those with less than 10 years of service were not eligible for pension, but the government introduced an ex-gratia pension to provide relief for them.
- In NPS, no such scheme exists and it remains a matter of concern.
- Five states, including Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Punjab and Himachal Pradesh have reintroduced a statutory pension scheme.
- Government employees in many states have been demanding a return to the old pension scheme.Topic 2 : Jalakandeswarar temple
Why in news: The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) will soon write to the Jalakandeswarar temple trust for carrying out a spatial survey and restoration of a 900-sq-ft room on the temple premises in Vellore fort.
About the Temple:
- Jalakandeswarar Temple is a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva.
- It is located in the Vellore Fort in Tamil Nadu.
- The temple is from the Vijaynagar period.
- The Jalakanteshwara Temple is a fine example of Vijayanagaram Architecture.
- The temple has exquisite carvings on its gopuram (tower), richly carved stone pillars, large wooden gates and stunning monoliths and sculptures.
- The temple also has a Mandapam, with the hall supported by carved stone pillars of dragons, horses and yalis (lion like creature).
- The temple itself is built in the middle of a water tank (called Agazhi in Tamil), and there is water surrounding the temple like a garland.
- The water used for bathing the deity (abishekam) is drawn from an ancient well called the Ganga Gouri Thertam, within the temple.About the ASI:
- The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is a government-run organisation that conducts archaeological research in India.
- It is an associated office under the Department of Culture of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture.
- It is the prime organisation for archaeological study and conservation of the nation’s cultural heritage.
- It is responsible for regulating all archaeological operations in the nation in accordance with the terms of the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958.
- The Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972, is also governed by this act.
Topic 3 : Government directive on deepfakes
Why in news: Recently, the Indian government instructed “social media intermediaries” to remove morphed videos or deepfakes from their platforms within 24 hours of a complaint being filed, in accordance with a requirement outlined in the IT Rules 2021.
What is a deepfake?
- Deepfakes are a compilation of artificial images, videos and audio put together with machine-learning algorithms to spread misinformation and replace a real person’s appearance, voice, or both with similar artificial likenesses or voices.
- It can create people who do not exist and it can fake real people saying and doing things they did not say or do.
- The term deepfake originated in 2017.
- Researchers have observed a 230% increase in deepfake usage by cybercriminals and scammers, and have predicted the technology would replace phishing in a couple of years.
How does deepfake technology work?
- The technology involves modifying or creating images and videos using a machine learning technique called generative adversarial network (GAN).
- The AI-driven software detects and learns the subjects’ movements and facial expressions from the source material and then duplicates these in another video or image.
- To ensure that the deepfake created is as close to real as possible, creators use a large database of source images.
- This is why more deepfake videos are created of public figures, celebrities and politicians.
- The dataset is then used by one software to create a fake video, while a second software is used to detect signs of forgery in it.
- Through the collaborative work of the two software, the fake video is rendered until the second software package can no longer detect the forgery.
- This is known as “unsupervised learning”, when machine-language models teach themselves.
- The method makes it difficult for other software to identify deepfakes.
What do laws in India say about deepfakes?
- India’s IT Rules, 2021 require that all content reported to be fake or produced using deep fake be taken down by intermediary platforms within 36 hours.
- The Indian IT ministry has also issued notices to social media platforms stating that impersonating online was illegal under Section 66D of the Information Technology Act of 2000.
- The IT Rules, 2021, also prohibit hosting any content that impersonates another person and requires social media firms to take down artificially morphed images when alerted.
Negative implications of deepfakes:
- The technology could potentially be used to:
- incite political violence,
- sabotage elections,
- unsettle diplomatic relations, and
- spread misinformation.
- humiliate and blackmail people
- attack organisations by presenting false evidence.
Positive implications of deepfakes:
- The technology has been used by the ALS Association in collaboration with a company to use voice-cloning technology to help people with ALS digitally recreate their voices in the future.Topic 4 : Regulating political funding
Why in news: The recent Supreme Court hearing on the constitutionality of electoral bonds has focused attention on an issue that goes to the heart of Indian democracy — the funding of political parties.
Various aspects of political funding:
- A fruitful party funding framework requires attention to at least four key aspects:
- Regulation of donations:
- Some individuals or organisations, for instance, foreign citizens or companies, may be banned from making any donations.
- There may also be donation limits.
- Donation limits are aimed at ensuring that a party is not captured by a few large donors — whether individuals, corporations, or civil society organisations.
- Therefore, some jurisdictions rely on contribution limits for regulating the influence of money in politics.
- For instance, the US federal law imposes different contribution limits on different types of donors.
- Some other countries, such as the UK, do not impose contribution limits, but instead, rely on expenditure limits.
- Expenditure limits:
- If contribution limits are aimed at avoiding a political party capture, expenditure limits safeguard politics from a financial arms race.
- It relieves parties from the pressure of competing for money before they even start to compete for votes.
- Therefore, some jurisdictions impose an expenditure limit on political parties.
- Public financing:
- In addition to the regulation of donations and expenditure, many countries also provide public funding of parties.
- Broadly, there are two ways of implementing public funding:
- Predetermined criteria:
- The most commonly used method around the world is to set predetermined criteria.
- For instance, in Germany, parties receive public funds on the basis of their importance within the political system.
- Generally, this is measured on the basis of the votes they received in past elections, membership fees, and the amount of donations received from private sources.
- Democracy vouchers:
- Under this system, the government distributes a certain number of vouchers to eligible voters.
- Each voucher is worth a certain amount.
- The voters can use these vouchers to donate to the candidate of their choice.
- While the voucher is publicly funded, the decision to allocate the money is taken by individual voters.
- Put simply, voters get to “vote” with their money before they cast their vote.
- Disclosure requirements:
- Disclosure is a less intrusive form of regulation.
- It does not outrightly prevent parties or donors from receiving or making donations.
- Instead, disclosures nudge voters against electing politicians who have used or are likely to use their public office for quid pro quo arrangements.
- As such, it may discourage parties from using public office to benefit their donors.
- Disclosure as regulation rests on an assumption that the information supply and public scrutiny may influence politicians’ decisions and the electorate’s votes.
- However, mandatory disclosure of donations to parties is not always desirable.
- At times, donor anonymity serves a useful purpose of protecting donors.
- For instance, donors may face the fear of retribution or extortion by the parties in power.
- The threat of retaliation may, in turn, deter donors from donating money to parties of their liking.
- Regulation of donations:
- No donation limits:
- In India, there are no donation limits on individuals.
- The Finance Act, 2017 also removed any official contribution limits on companies.
- In other words, an individual or an organisation can donate as much as they want to a political party.
- No legal expenditure limit:
- Similarly, there is no legal expenditure limit on expenditure by political parties.
- A party can spend as much as it wants for its national or state-level campaign as long as it does not spend that money towards the election of any specific candidate.
- Legal barrier of limited disclosures:
- Parties are required to disclose donations of more than Rs 20,000, unless they are made through electoral bonds.
- Parties are not required to disclose the sum or the source of any single donation that is below Rs 20,000.
- This is where the legal loophole steps in as parties generally break large donations from a single donor into multiple small donations.
- This practice exempts them from any disclosure requirement.
- Hiding of donations through formal banking:
- Since 2017, electoral bonds enable large donors to hide their donations if they use official banking channels.
- The bonds enable political parties and large donors to strike quid pro quo deals without any public scrutiny.
- Accessibility of information on donors:
- The ability of the party in power to access the information about donors of other parties (through law enforcement agencies) undermines the scheme of electoral bonds on its own terms, i.e., to prevent victimisation of donors.
- Indian electioneering is no longer restricted to parties and candidates.
- Over the last decade, we have seen a staggering rise in the involvement of political consultancies, campaign groups and civil society organisations in online and offline political campaigns.
- The most prominent response, then, is to balance legitimate public interests in transparency and anonymity.
- Many jurisdictions strike this balance by allowing anonymity for small donors, while requiring disclosures of large donations.
- The argument in favour of this approach goes as follows:
- small donors are likely to be the least influential in the government and most vulnerable to partisan victimisation.
- On the other hand, large donors are more likely to strike quid pro quo arrangements with parties.Topic 5 : Speedy disposal of cases against lawmakers
Why in news: The Supreme Court issued guidelines to monitor the speedy disposal of criminal cases against Members of Parliament (MPs) and Members of Legislative Assemblies (MLAs).
- Among the guidelines issued to high courts across the country, the court called for the setting up of a “special bench” to monitor criminal cases against legislators as well as suo motu registration of such cases by HCs.
- The directions were given by a Chief Justice of India-led bench while acting on a plea filed in 2016 which sought speedy disposal of cases involving lawmakers.
- It also sought a lifetime ban on convicted politicians, including sitting legislators, from contesting elections rather than subjecting them to the six-year ban, as laid down under Section 8(3) of the Representation of People Act, 1951.
- Section 8 of the RP Act, 1951, mainly deals with the disqualification of lawmakers on conviction for certain offences.
About the RP Act:
- It was introduced by Dr BR Ambedkar in the Parliament
- The Representation of the People Act, 1951, provides for:
- the conduct of elections to the houses of parliament and the legislatures of each state,
- the qualifications and disqualifications for membership of those houses,
- corrupt practices, and
- other offences taking place at or in connection with the elections.
- Section 8:
- Section 8 specifically deals with disqualification of legislators on conviction for offences like:
- promoting enmity between two groups,
- undue influence,
- adulteration of food or drugs.
- Section 8 specifically deals with disqualification of legislators on conviction for offences like:
What did the court rule?
- Registering suo motu cases:
- Among these was the registration of suo motu cases by the chief justices of various high courts across the country to monitor the quick disposal of pending criminal cases against legislators.
- Listing of cases at regular intervals:
- Adding that such cases can be heard by a CJ-led special bench or a bench designated by her, the court said that such cases can also be listed at regular intervals, if necessary.
- Assistance of other advocates:
- The special bench may also call upon the advocate general or prosecutor to assist the court.
- States to devise their own guidelines:
- Stating that it would be difficult to lay down uniform guidelines for trial courts across the country to dispose of such cases, the court left it to the high court to devise measures to effectively monitor such cases.
- Priority of cases:
- The court said that priority shall be given to cases against lawmakers that are punishable with death or life imprisonment.
- Besides this, cases punishable with 5 years imprisonment or more will also be prioritised.
- Power of High Courts:
- High courts can issue similar orders and directions for effective disposal of such cases.
- The HCs can also call upon the Principal District and Sessions Judge to take on the responsibility of allocating “subject cases” to such courts.