Strength of Supreme Court Judges
The Union Cabinet approved the proposal to introduce a bill to increase the number of judges in Supreme Court from 31 to 34 including the Chief Justice of India.
Who can increase the strength
The strength of the Supreme Court is fixed by law made by the Parliament as per Article 124(1) of the Constitution of India. Therefore, the strength can be increased by way of parliamentary legislation.
Why the increase
The decision of the Cabinet came days after Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to increase the number of judges in the top court.
According to CJI, the required number of Constitution Benches to decide important cases involving questions of law was not being able to form due to paucity of judges.
It can function more efficiently and effectively as it will go a long way to attain the ultimate goal of rendering timely justice to the litigant public.
At present, the Supreme Court is working with its full sanctioned strength of 31.
The Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Act, 1956 originally provided for a maximum of 10 judges (excluding the CJI).
This number was increased to 13 by the Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Amendment Act, 1960, and to 17 in 1977.
The working strength of the Supreme Court was, however, restricted to 15 judges by the Cabinet (excluding the chief Justice of India) till the end of 1979. But the restriction was withdrawn at the request of the Chief Justice of India.
In 1986, the strength of the top court was increased to 25, excluding the CJI.
The Supreme Court (Number of Judges) Act, 1956 was last amended in 2009 to increase the judges’ strength from 25 to 30 (excluding the CJI).
About Supreme Court of India
Article 124 provides for the establishment and constitution of Supreme Court of India, which is the apex court of India.
It was established on 28th January, 1950 i.e. two days after the commencement of the Constitution.
It succeeded the Federal Court of India, established under the Government of India Act of 1935.
Articles 124 to 147 in Part V of the Constitution deal with the organisation, independence, jurisdiction, powers, and procedures of the Supreme Court.
Why in News
The State government of Kerala will start levying 1% flood cess on goods and services transacted within the State from August 1.
News in Detail
Kerala Flood Cess is levied under Section 14 of Kerala Finance Act, 2019.
It is applicable only for intra-state supply and not for inter-state supply.
The proceeds from the cess will be used for funding the post-flood rebuilding projects.
More than 483 people were killed, lakhs of people were displaced and property worth more than Rs 30,000 crore was damaged in one of the state’s worst-ever floods last year.
The GST Council had permitted the government to levy 1% cess on goods and services within the State to mobilise resources for rebuilding the State.
It will be implemented for two years from August 1
The cess has not been imposed on goods and services that figure in the tax slabs below 5%.
Traders who have opted for composition tax have been excluded from the cess.
Additionally, hotel food, air conditioned train and bus ticket booking have also been exempted.
Cess is a form of tax charged/levied over and above the base tax liability of a taxpayer.
A cess is usually imposed additionally when the state or the central government looks to raise funds for specific purposes.
For example, the government levies an education cess to generate additional revenue for funding primary, secondary, and higher education.
Cess is not a permanent source of revenue for the government, and it is discontinued when the purpose levying it is fulfilled. It can be levied on both indirect and direct taxes.
Why in News
India’s monsoon deficit percentage has narrowed down to single digits for the first time this year because of better-than-expected July rainfall.
News in Detail
As of July 31, data from the India Meteorological Department (IMD) says that the country got 28.5 cm of rainfall in July, about 4% more than what’s normal for the month.
This has reduced the seasonal deficit (calculated from June 1 to July 31) from 32.8% as on June 30 to 9%.
The improvement in rainfall was distributed in all regions except the southern peninsula, which got 10% less rain than what’s normal for July.
Currently, the monsoon is in an active phase and, because of the likelihood of a rain-bearing low pressure system in the northern part of the Bay of Bengal, steady rains are likely over Central India as well as India’s western coast until the first week of August.
August and July are the rainiest and the most important months in the monsoon and contribute roughly 65% of the overall monsoon rainfall.
The pessimism by forecasters in May was due to the looming fear of an El Niño, a climate phenomenon known to dry up monsoon rainfall.
Currently, weak El Niño conditions are prevailing over equatorial Pacific Ocean and forecasts indicate that transition of El Niño conditions to El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) neutral conditions is likely during the end of the monsoon season.
The improvement in rains are critical to revive kharif sowing in the country.
About El Nino
El Nino means ‘little boy’ or ‘Christ child’ in Spanish.
El Nino refers to the large-scale ocean-atmosphere climate interaction linked to a periodic warming in sea surface temperatures across the central and east-central Equatorial Pacific.
It is associated with high pressure in the western Pacific.
El Nino adversely impacts the Indian monsoons and hence, agriculture in India.
About India Meteorological Department (IMD)
India Meteorological Department (IMD) is an agency under Ministry of Earth Sciences of the Government of India and was established in the year 1875.
It is responsible for meteorological observations, weather forecasting and seismology.
It has the responsibility for forecasting, naming and distribution of warnings for tropical cyclones in the Northern Indian Ocean region, including the Malacca Straits, the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf.
Amazon Rain Forest
Satellite images show that about 4,200 sq km of Amazon rain forest have been destroyed since the new government took over in Brazil.
Significance of Rain Forests
While most nations tend to view their land and forests through the narrow prism of short-term economic gain, climate science data show that they play a larger environmental role.
The Amazon basin, spread across millions of hectares in multiple countries, hosts massive sinks of sequestered carbon, and the forests are a key factor in regulating monsoon systems.
The rainforests harbour rich biodiversity and about 400 known indigenous groups whose presence has prevented commercial interests from overrunning the lands.
Much of the Amazon has survived, despite relentless pressure to convert forests into farmlands, pastures and gold mines, and to build roads.
Conserving the Universal Treasure
As the custodian of forests in about 5 million sq km of Amazon land, Brazil has everything to gain by engaging with the international community on meeting the opportunity cost of leaving the Amazon undisturbed.
Brazil lost a valuable opportunity to seek higher funding for forest protection by refusing to host the annual convention of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change this year.
Globally, there is tremendous momentum to save the Amazon forests. Brazil must welcome initiatives such as the billion-dollar Amazon Fund backed by Norway and Germany, which has been operating for over a decade, instead of trying to shut them down.
Remedial funding, accounting for the value of environmental services, is the most productive approach, because forest removal has not helped agriculture everywhere due to soil and other factors.
Brazil must recognise that rainforests are universal treasures, and the rights of indigenous communities to their lands are inalienable.
The international community must use diplomacy to convince Brazil about the importance of conserving the ‘lungs of the planet’.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a recent NITI Aayog meeting, explicated the need to implement innovative water management measures, stressing particularly the importance of rainwater harvesting both at the household and community levels.
With an increased variability of monsoons and rapidly depleting groundwater tables, large parts of India are reeling under water stress.
A number of peninsular regions like Bundelkhand, Vidarbha and Marathwada have been facing recurring drought-like situations.
Why Farm Ponds
Farm ponds can be cost-effective structures that transform rural livelihoods.
They can help enhance water control, contribute to agriculture intensification and boost farm incomes.
However, this is possible only if they act as rainwater harvesting structures and not as intermediate storage points for an increased extraction of groundwater or diversion of canal water. The latter will cause greater groundwater depletion and inequitable water distribution.
In a recent study on farm ponds in Jharkhand and West Bengal, it was found that the farm ponds aided in superior water control through the harvesting not just of rainfall but also of surface run-off and subsurface flows.
Some of them functioned exclusively as recharge points, contributing to groundwater replenishment.
They also helped in providing supplemental irrigation in the kharif season and an enhanced irrigation coverage in rabi.
The yield of paddy, the most important crop in kharif, stabilised, thus contributing to greater food security.
Farm ponds retained water for 8-10 months of the year; thus farmers could enhance cropping intensity and crop diversification within and across seasons.
The area used to cultivate vegetables and other commercial crops also increased.
Case in Peninsular India
In parts of peninsular India, the idea of a farm pond as an in-situ rainwater harvesting structure has taken a complete U-turn.
They are being used as intermediate storage points, accelerating groundwater depletion and increasing evaporation losses as the groundwater is brought to the surface and stored in relatively shallow structures.
Need for inlet, outlet provisions
In Maharashtra, the State government is promoting farm ponds under a flagship programme that aims to dig over one lakh structures by offering a subsidy of up to ₹50,000 per farmer.
However, most of them are being constructed without inlet and outlet provisions and their walls are raised above the ground level by only a few feet.
They cannot arrest the excess run-off as there is no inlet, and farmers line them at the bottom with plastic, restricting seepage and converting the ponds into intermediate storage points.
Such farm ponds have an adverse impact on the water tables and accelerate water loss.
The usual practice here is to lift water from a dug well and/or a borewell, store it in the pond and then draw it once again to irrigate the fields, often using micro-irrigation.
While offering secure irrigation facility, this intensifies competition for extraction of groundwater from the aquifer, which is a common pool resource.
In such cases, in the command area of the irrigation project, farmers fill up their farm ponds first when the canal is in rotation and then take it from the pond to the field. This can impede circulation of water.
During canal rotation, the aquifer will get recharged because of the return flow of water coming from the irrigated fields.
This return flow benefits all, as most of the farmers access water though wells in this command.
But if canals fill up the farm ponds first, it restricts their benefits only to the pond owners and, in the long term, reduces the overall return flow at the system level.
Farm ponds can act as effective harvesting structures and also yield healthy financial returns. But if they are promoted merely for on-farm storage of groundwater and canal water, they could accelerate, rather than reduce, the water crisis in the countryside.
India – Thailand Bilateral Relations
Why in News
Thailand is in talks with India to buy BrahMos cruise missiles.
News in Detail
Thailand expressed interest in the BrahMos missiles some time back, but discussions picked pace after the visit of Royal Thai Navy Chief Admiral Ruddit to India in December last year.
As part of the expanding defence cooperation between the two countries, Thailand has made a request for repair and refurbishing their Dornier maritime patrol aircraft.
Discussions are on to integrate Thailand into India’s coastal surveillance radar chain network which sources is likely to be finalised by year end.
The India will host the first edition of the India, Thailand and Singapore trilateral naval exercise announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his address at Shangri-La dialogue in June 2018 which is scheduled to be held in September this year.
As members of the Indian Ocean rim association (IORA) and Indian Ocean Naval symposium (IONS), navies of India and Thailand are working closely in the areas of disaster risk management, maritime security safety, information sharing and interoperability.
About BrahMos Cruise Missile
It is a supersonic cruise missile designed and developed by BrahMos Aerospace, a joint venture of India and Russia.
It has derived its name from the names of two rivers, India’s Brahmaputra River and Russia’s Moskva River.
The medium-range ramjet supersonic cruise missile has a strike range of about 290 km.
It operates on fire and forget principle.
It is capable of being launched from land, sea, sub-sea and air against sea and land targets.
It is two-stage missile, the first one being solid and the second one ramjet liquid propellant.
India’s recent accession to MTCR, allowed Russia to provide the critical systems and technology to extend the range of the missile beyond 300km.
Tea Board to recast the e-Auction System
Why in News
The Tea Board has, in-principle, accepted the recommendations submitted by a team of IIM Bangalore professors to recast the present pan India e-auction system.
Need for Recast
The deficiencies of the present pan Indian e-auction system rolled out in 2016 were many.
The system had neither improved price discovery nor boosted volumes.
The modified system aims at addressing these issues while creating equal opportunities for all.
The new system, which will be on the lines of the Japanese auction format, will help in better price realisation.
IIM Bangalore, at the request of the Tea Board, drew up an action plan to synchronise the tea auction process with the global auction policies.
Recommendations include the need for devising a new channel for small buyers with flexible buying option, elevating industry standards by laying emphasis on good quality certification and eliminating complexities in the existing auction system among others.
A lot has changed in terms of buying and selling since the time tea auctions moved from manual to electronic platform. So there was a need to devise a modern platform that will move tea auction to the next level.
The study has also emphasised on development of comprehensive guidelines and standards for tea so as to ensure quality.
It has also suggested robust quality certification through a neutral party.
Redesigning of catalogue with no indication of valuation; standardization of lot sizes and elimination of divisibility of lots; introduction of a price discovery session for out lots at the end of each sale per day with a premium to the buyers and managing delivery of teas to the buyers are some of the other suggestions.
The suggestions, if implemented in totality, will help improve the quality of the tea sold as the poor quality tea will not find its way into the auction.
About Tea Board of India
The Tea Board was set up on 1st April 1954, under the Tea Act 1953.
It has succeeded the Central Tea Board and the Indian Tea Licensing Committee which functioned respectively under the Central Tea Board Act, 1949 and the Indian Tea Control Act, 1938 which were repealed.
The Board is functioning as a statutory body of the Central Government under the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.
It is engaged in the promotion, cultivation, processing and domestic trade and export of tea from India.
The origins of the organisation can be dated to 1903 with the passing of the Indian Tea Cess Bill.
The Prime Minister, Narendra Modi chaired his thirtieth interaction through PRAGATI – the ICT-based, multi-modal platform for Pro-Active Governance and Timely Implementation.
This was the first PRAGATI meeting in the new term of the Union Government.
PRAGATI (Pro-Active Governance And Timely Implementation) is a unique integrating and interactive platform.
The platform is aimed at addressing common man’s grievances, and simultaneously monitoring and reviewing important programmes and projects of the Government of India as well as projects flagged by State Governments.
The system has been designed in-house by the PMO team with the help of National Informatics Centre (NIC).
It is also a robust system for bringing e-transparency and e-accountability with real-time presence and exchange among the key stakeholders.
It is a three-tier system (PMO, Union Government Secretaries, and Chief Secretaries of the States).
The first such programme was launched on 25th March, 2015.
The system will ride on, strengthen and re-engineer the data bases of the CPGRAMS for grievances, Project Monitoring Group (PMG) and the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation. PRAGATI provides an interface and platform for all these three aspects.
It will combine Data Management and Analysis, Geo-spatial Applications as well as Video-conferencing.