Topic 1 : Restoration of a 12th Century Chola temple
Why in news: A 12th century temple of the Chola dynasty, with striking architectural features, is in a dilapidated condition at Mundlapudi village on the outskirts of Tirupati.
- The temple was raised on an ‘Adhishtana’ (basement), the walls decorated with Koshtas, Makara Thoranas, miniature shrines and ‘Kumbhapanjara’ pillars.
- There are also some sculpted idols of Nataraja, Venugopala Krishna, musicians and dwarfs engraved in the typical Chola style.
- The name of the village Mundlapudi was originally known as Munaipundi or Muniyapundi.
- It was also called as Sivapadasekharanallur, after the title of King Raja Raja Narendra, in an inscription of Vikrama Chola (1118-35 CE) engraved on the mouldings of the temple basement.
- The inscription also records that the income of the village was donated to light the lamps at Parasareswara Swamy temple in Yogimallavaram, located just less than a kilometre away.
- There is no Krishna idol in the temple and the villagers are worshipping a mere photo frame of Lord Krishna.Topic 2 : Nugu Wildlife Sanctuary
Why in news: The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) has recommended to the authorities that the Nugu Wildlife Sanctuary abutting the Bandipur Tiger Reserve be declared as a core critical tiger habitat.
- Taking into consideration the ecological significance of Nugu Wildlife Sanctuary which is inviolate and ideal habitat for tigers and elephants, the State government of Karnataka may consider proposing and notifying the entire sanctuary area as Core/Critical Tiger Habitat of Bandipur Tiger Reserve.
- Nugu is spread over 30.32 sq km and was declared a Wildlife Sanctuary by the State and is situated in Mysuru district.
- The backwaters of Nugu dam forms the part of the Nugu Wildlife Sanctuary and lies on the western side of the sanctuary.
- The sanctuary’s landscape includes:
- scrub forests,
- cultivation areas near the reservoir, and
- adjacent degraded dry deciduous forests.
- The Nugu Wildlife Sanctuary is also part of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve and the sanctuary supports a very high-density of elephant population.
- The sanctuary also harbours two important riverine wildlife species:
- smooth coated otter, and
- marsh crocodile.
- Nugu Wildlife Sanctuary has been declared as an eco-sensitive zone because of the number of commercial tourism ventures in the sanctuary.About NTCA
- The National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) was established in 2005, following a recommendation of the Tiger Task Force.
- The Prime Minister of India established it to reorganise the management of Project Tiger and many Tiger Reserves in India.
- WPA, 1972:
- The Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 was amended in 2006 to provide for constituting the National Tiger Conservation Authority responsible for implementation of the Project Tiger plan to protect endangered tigers.
- The Minister for Environment and Forests.
- Other members:
- Eight experts or professionals having qualifications and experience in wildlife conservation and welfare of people.
- Three Members of Parliament of whom two will be elected by the Lok Sabha and one by the Rajya Sabha.
- The Inspector General of Forests, in charge of project Tiger, will be ex-officio Member Secretary.
- Main function:
- The Authority would lay down normative standards, guidelines for tiger conservation in the Tiger Reserves, apart from National Parks and Sanctuaries.
Topic 3 : Laser Signal from space
Why in news: NASA’s Psyche spacecraft, currently over 16 million kilometres away in space, successfully fired a laser signal at Earth on November 14.
- The spacecraft is on its way to a unique metal-rich asteroid, orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter.
- Scientists believe this asteroid is the nickel-iron core of an early planet, studying which could provide unique insights into the impenetrable iron core of our own planet.
- Simultaneously, it will also carry out another mission that might hold the key to future space exploration.
Electromagnetic spectrum in space:
- How communication in space takes place:
- Communicating with spacecraft far away from Earth poses many challenges, of which the problem of data rates might be the most critical.
- Like wireless communications on Earth, spacecraft encode data on various bands of electromagnetic frequencies.
- Currently, most space communication is carried out using radio waves — having the highest wave lengths but lowest frequencies in the electromagnetic spectrum.
- Higher bandwidths vs lower bandwidths:
- However, higher bandwidths (range of frequencies) carry more data per second.
- Thus, scientists would ideally like to transmit data at the highest bandwidths possible to increase the rates of data transfer.
- Usage of radio waves:
- Radio waves are more widely used for communication than other electromagnetic waves primarily because of their desirable propagation properties, stemming from their large wavelength.
- They have the ability to pass through the atmosphere regardless of weather, pass through foliage and most building materials, as well as bend around obstructions.
- Shorter wavelengths tend to scatter when in contact with any interference.
NASA’s Deep Space Optical Communications
- NASA’s Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC) experiment pioneers the use of near-infrared laser signals for communication with spacecraft.
- DSOC will allow data rates at least 10 times higher than state-of-the-art radio telecommunications systems of comparable size and power, enabling higher resolution images, larger volumes of science data, and even streaming video.
- The Psyche spacecraft is the first to carry a DSOC transceiver, and will be testing high-bandwidth optical communications to Earth during the first two years of the spacecraft’s journey to the main asteroid belt.
How the laser signal was received?
- The tech demo achieved first light after the transceiver locked onto a powerful uplink laser beacon transmitted from the Optical Communications Telescope Laboratory.
- The flight laser transceiver and ground-based laser transmitter will need to point with great precision.
- Reaching their targets will be akin to hitting a dime from a mile away while the dime is moving.
- To achieve this, the transceiver aboard the spacecraft needs to be isolated from the craft’s vibrations.
- Moreover, since the positions of Earth and the spacecraft will be constantly changing as the photons travel, the DSOC ground and flight systems will need to compensate, pointing to where the ground receiver and flight transceiver will be when the signal arrives.
- Given the distance between the spacecraft and Earth, new signal-processing techniques will be utilised to squeeze information out of the weak laser signals transmitted over the vastness of space.
Topic 4 : Electoral bonds
Why in news: While reserving its judgment on a batch of petitions challenging the Electoral Bond Scheme, 2018, the Supreme Court ordered the Election Commission to submit data of the electoral bonds received by political parties.
- While hearing a petition against the Electoral Bond Scheme, the Supreme Court asked the Election Commission to submit data of electoral bonds received by political parties.
- The EC wrote to parties asking them to furnish details of the electoral bonds, along with detailed particulars of the donors, the amount of each bond, the detail of the bank accounts and the date of credit.
- While 105 parties submitted their reports, RTI replies from State Bank of India have revealed that only 25 political parties have opened the bank accounts necessary to receive electoral bonds.
What is an electoral bond?
- An electoral bond is like a promissory note that can be bought by any Indian citizen or company incorporated in India from select branches of State Bank of India.
- The citizen or corporate can then donate the same to any eligible political party of his/her choice.
- The bonds are similar to bank notes that are payable to the bearer on demand and are free of interest.
- An individual or party will be allowed to purchase these bonds digitally or through cheque.
- Electoral bonds are interest-free bearer bonds or money instruments.
- These bonds are sold in multiples of Rs 1,000, Rs 10,000, Rs 1 lakh, Rs 10 lakh, and Rs 1 crore.
- There is no cap on the number of electoral bonds that a person or company can purchase.
- The government brought in amendments to four Acts to introduce the Electoral Bond Scheme via the Finance Act of 2016 and 2017. These acts are:
- Representation of the People Act, 1951, (RPA),
- the Companies Act, 2013,
- the Income Tax Act, 1961, and
- the Foreign Contributions Regulation Act, 2010 (FCRA).
- The bonds will be issued in multiples of Rs 1,000 to Rs 1 crore.
- A donor with a KYC-compliant account can purchase the bonds and can then donate them to the party or individual of their choice.
- The receiver can encash the bonds through the party’s verified account.
- The electoral bond will be valid only for fifteen days.
- Any party that is registered under section 29A of the Representation of the Peoples Act, 1951 (43 of 1951) and has secured at least one per cent of the votes polled in the most recent General elections or Assembly elections is eligible to receive electoral bonds.
- The party will be allotted a verified account by the Election Commission of India (ECI) and the electoral bond transactions can be made only through this account.
- The electoral bonds will not bear the name of the donor.
- Political parties that secured at least 1% of the votes polled in the recent Lok Sabha or State Assembly elections and are registered under the RPA can get a verified account from the Election Commission of India (ECI).
- The bond amounts are deposited in this account within 15 days of their purchase.
- The amount received as a donation gets deposited into the Prime Minister’s Relief Fund.
- These bonds, however, are not available for purchase all the time.
- They are available for a period of 10 days in a gap of four months (January, April, July and October).
- They are also open for 30 days in Lok Sabha election years.
Are electoral bonds taxable?
- The donations would be tax deductible.
- Hence, a donor will get a deduction and the recipient, or the political party, will get tax exemption, provided returns are filed by the political party.\
Restrictions done away with after the introduction of the electoral bond scheme
- Before the scheme was introduced the political parties had to make public all donations above Rs 20,000.
- Also, no corporate company was allowed to make donations amounting to more than 7.5% of their total profit or 10% of revenue.
- Earlier, no foreign company could donate to any political party under the Companies Act
- Companies had to disclose details of their political donations in their annual statement of accounts.
- The government moved an amendment in the Finance Bill to ensure that this proviso would not be applicable to companies in case of electoral bonds.
- Thus, Indian, foreign and even shell companies can now donate to political parties without having to inform anyone of the contribution.
Arguments against the scheme:
- Violates Right to Information:
- It has been so far argued in the court that the Electoral Bond scheme violates the citizen’s fundamental right to information under Article 19 (1) about political parties.
- If the citizens have the right to know about candidates then they certainly have the right to know about who is funding the political party as well.
- Enables backdoor lobbying and quid pro quo:
- There is circumstantial evidence to prove that there were kickbacks being paid by corporations via electoral bonds to political parties in power to get favours for the corporations.
- Opens doors to shell companies:
- It has been argued that since the government removed the limit of 7.5 per cent of the annual profit for companies to make donations to political parties and allowed Indian subsidiaries of foreign companies to make donations, shell companies can now also be used to make donations.
- The amendments to FCRA mean that even a loss-making company or a company that does no business (a pure shell company) can also donate.
- Opaque instrument that is not entirely anonymous:
- It has been argued that Electoral Bonds are opaque instruments that are not entirely anonymous.
- As nobody can come to know other than the government who contributed to whom.
- Since the SBI comes under the government, donations to the opposition can come under scrutiny by an investigative agency, which leads to selective anonymity.
- This anonymity of electoral bonds had raised suspicions of corruption.
- Can be used for any other purpose than Elections:
- The name “Electoral Bond” is a misnomer as the money can be used for any purpose after it is withdrawn since no one is asking how the parties spent the money.
- There is nothing in the scheme which connects the donations made to the participation in the electoral process.
- It’s a means for political parties to be enriched.
- Eliminates level playing field for political parties in Opposition:
- More than 50 per cent have been received only by the ruling party at the Centre and the rest have only been received by the ruling party in States.
- Not even 1 per cent has been received by opposition parties that aren’t ruling in opposition states.
- Virtually all bonds have been purchased by corporates saying that nearly 95 per cent are in the denomination of 1 crore and above.
- Differentiates between corporations and citizens:
- The scheme gives anonymity to corporate donors but citizens who are donating Rs 2000 in cash will disclose their names.
- This may also lead to the overshadowing of citizens’ voices by corporates in a democracy.
- Unfair to the shareholder investing in Companies:
- The shareholders in a company put in their money to ensure that the corporation functions within the framework of the MoU.
- By donating to Electoral Bonds the company is not informing the shareholders as to how their money is going to be spent.
- No way to stop trading of electoral bonds:
- Even as trading of electoral bonds is prohibited, there is no way to stop it.
- The person could be an aggregator of bonds and may give the bonds to ten others.
- Does not reduce black money:
- The electoral bonds scheme did not primarily aim to reduce black money but rather aimed to reroute non-anonymous funding from normal banking channels to anonymous Electoral Bonds.
- The scheme is called as an alternative white money channel created by the government to replace the already existing disclosure-based channels, such as RTGS, bank drafts, and cheques with added anonymity.
- No transparency:
- The scheme have been challenged as an obscure funding system which is unchecked by any authority.
- The anonymity of donors under the scheme further makes the process opaque instead of meeting its aim of bringing about transparency.
- Unlimited funding:
- Before the electoral bonds scheme was announced, there was a cap on how much a company could donate to a political party: 7.5 per cent of the average net profits of a company in the preceding three years.
- However, the government amended the Companies Act to remove this limit, opening the The amendments to the Companies Act 2013 will lead to private corporate interests taking precedence over the needs and rights of the people of the State in policy considerations.
- No benefit to common man:
- One of the arguments for introducing electoral bonds was to allow common people to easily fund political parties of their choice but more than 90% of the bonds have been of the highest denomination (Rs 1 crore) as of 2022.
Arguments in favour of the scheme:
- Formal regulation:
- All electoral bonds issued are to be redeemed by a bank account that the Election Commission of India has disclosed, hence the malpractice is regulated.
- Control of political funding:
- The widespread use of electoral bonds can help to hold back political parties who operate with the goal of simply collecting funds from the public.
- It is because only registered parties attaining at least 1% of the votes in the general election can receive electoral funding.
- Promotes transparency and safety:
- Electoral bonds work with the government goal to make election funding entirely safe and digitized.
- Therefore, any donation going above RS 2000 is not legally required to be in the form of electoral bonds and cheques.
- All transactions of electoral bonds are carried out via cheques or digitally.
- Reduced deals between donor and partes:
- Validity of only 15 days for the bonds reduced the potential for quid pro quo deals as donors are required to give the bonds within this period.
- To further minimize the risk, if the bonds are not encashed within the stipulated timeframe of 15 days from the date of issue, the amount goes to the PM Relief Fund, and the donor can’t recover it.
- Necessity of confidentiality:
- No transparent political donation scheme will work if there is no confidentiality.
- If it is publicly disclosed who donated to which party, it will result in retribution and victimisation of the donor from other political parties.
- And if therefore the confidentiality clause is removed, the donors will opt to donate through cash instead.
- Limited right to information is necessary:
- While the public had a right to know, it should be limited to cases of genuine public interest.
- Curious or prying inquiries should not infringe upon an individual’s privacy.
- Information about which company had purchased how many bonds and which political party had received how many bonds was already in the public domain.
- Any additional disclosure beyond this might encourage a return to cash-based political funding, which would not be in the legitimate state’s interest.
- Disclosure to the Election Commission:
- The scheme could be modified to ensure that all donations received through electoral bonds are fully disclosed to the Election Commission and potentially to the public.
- Cap on purchase:
- A cap on the purchase of electoral bonds by individuals or entities could be introduced to prevent excessive influence by any single donor.
- Corporate donations could be capped once again to limit corporate influence and protect corporate governance.
- Real time disclosure:
- To further promote transparency, real-time disclosure of bond purchases and redemptions to an independent regulatory body could be mandated.
- While preserving the anonymity of donors to protect their privacy, their identities could be known to a regulatory authority to maintain accountability.
- Regular audits:
- Regular audits by an authority like the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) could be instituted to ensure that the funds are used appropriately.
- Limiting redemption period:
- Limiting the redemption period of electoral bonds to match election cycles would also prevent the constant, opaque flow of funds.
- A centralized database:
- To empower voters, a centralised database with aggregated data on electoral bond donations could be made available to the public.
- Other options that can be explored:
- Exploring public financing options for elections may reduce dependency on large private donations.
- Implementing a sunset clause would ensure periodic review and renewal of the scheme, adjusting to new challenges and concerns.
- Engaging a wider array of stakeholders, including political parties, civil society, and experts in policy reform, would help create a more inclusive and considered approach to reforming political financing.
- The integrity of the electoral process is fundamentally linked to the transparency of political contributions, a matter that has gained critical attention as the Supreme Court’s decision is highly anticipated.
- It is crucial to extricate the democratic process in India from the deep-rooted influence of financial power.
- There is a strong hope that the Supreme Court will continue the legacy of its predecessors by upholding the fundamental belief that the purity of elections depends vitally on clear and open political financing.
- Moreover, it is expected that the highest court in the land will pave the way for a more open and just system of political funding, a move fraught with significant consequences and bearing immense significance for the future of India’s democracy.