Kurukshetra IAS Academy Blogs

1. Goel likely quit over ‘differences’ with CEC

Differences with Rajiv Kumar are said to have arisen during a visit to Bengal to oversee poll preparations

Opposition raises questions over resignation of the EC days ahead of announcement of LS polls

Sources say only some high ranking government officials and CEC knew about the developments

The sudden and unexpected resignation of Election Commissioner (EC) Arun Goel, barely a week before the announcement of the Lok Sabha election, came as a surprise to many, but insiders in the poll body have said that apparent differences emerged between Mr. Goel and Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Rajiv Kumar during their visit to West Bengal to oversee poll preparations earlier this month.

According to well-placed sources, Mr. Goel refused to attend the press conference in Kolkata to brief the media about the preparations in the State after his reported differences with Mr. Kumar. The CEC addressed the media alone on March 5.

‘Health concerns’

In the press briefing, the CEC mentioned that Mr. Goel had returned to Delhi due to “health concerns”. However, sources close to Mr. Goel have dismissed that and maintained that “he is in the pink of health”.

Instead, they said that “he flew back to Delhi cutting short his visit in West Bengal owing to some serious differences”.

However, they did not elaborate further on what transpired between the two officials nor what issues they differed on that caused Mr. Goel’s abrupt exit from the poll body.

Reacting to Mr. Goel’s resignation, Opposition parties on Sunday asked whether he had stepped down due to differences with the CEC, or to contest an election.

After arriving in Delhi, Mr. Goel attended meetings, with Mr. Kumar, at the ECI headquarters on March 7.However, on March 8, he reportedly skipped a meeting between ECI brass and Union Home Secretary Ajay Kumar Bhalla and instead sent his resignation to the President of India without informing the CEC.

“There were attempts from the government to…reconcile their differences but he remained firm on his exit,” officials said.

His resignation was accepted by the President on March 9 and the Ministry of Law and Justice issued a gazette notification stating that Mr. Goel’s resignation was accepted with effect from the same day.

“Except perhaps the CEC and other highest ranking officials in the government, nobody had an inkling about Mr. Goel’s decision to resign,” claimed multiple sources in the government and the ECI.

Opposition’s questions

Reacting to the resignation, Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh asked in a post on X, “Did he actually resign over differences with the Chief Election Commissioner or with the Modi government, which does the front-seat driving for all supposedly independent institutions? Or did he resign for personal reasons? Or did he, like the Calcutta High Court Judge a few days back, resign to contest the forthcoming Lok Sabha polls on a BJP ticket?” Mr. Ramesh asked.

Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) leader Sanjay Raut alleged that the ECI “has been privatised” and “become a branch of the BJP” over the last ten years, raising concerns about who would replace Mr. Goel. “Like the BJP’s people have been appointed in the High Courts, Supreme Court, Governor’s house… they will appoint two of their BJP people here too.”

2. Gig workers suffer from lack of social security, regulation: study

Almost a third of app-based cab drivers work for over 14 hours a day, while more than 83% work more than 10 hours and 60% work over 12 hours, according to a study of more than 10,000 Indian cab drivers, gig and platform workers.

It noted that social disparities make the situation worse, with over 60% of the drivers from the Scheduled Castes and Tribes working for over 14 hours a day, while only 16% from the unreserved category work such long hours.

The study was conducted by the People’s Association in Grassroots Action and Movements, and the Indian Federation of App-based Transport Workers, with technical support from the University of Pennsylvania and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung India, a German foundation.

Authors of the study, which will be released on Monday, recommended stronger social security for app-based workers, and called on the government to exercise oversight on the fairness of algorithms and mechanisms used by platforms to monitor such workers.

The study report says that over 43% of participants in the study earn less than ₹500 a day or ₹15,000 a month, after deducting all their costs. It found that 34% of the app-based delivery persons earn less than ₹10,000 a month, while 78% spend over 10 hours each day at work.

Noting the differences among workers from different castes, the report said that “these income disparities further exacerbate the already existing social inequalities and perpetuate cycles of poverty and distress within these communities”.

Overall, 5,302 cab drivers and 5,028 delivery persons across eight cities — Delhi, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Lucknow, Kolkata, Jaipur, and Indore — participated in a 50-question survey; 78% of the respondents were in the age group of 21 to 40 years.

Due to the demanding work hours, the study found that drivers are physically exhausted, and exposed to an increased risk of road traffic accidents, especially due to the ‘10-minute delivery at the doorstep’ policy of certain e-commerce platforms. The lack of social and job security creates additional stress and leads to potential health issues.

“76% of the delivery persons are struggling to make their ends meet. ,” the report said.

Another major complaint of the workers is the issue of ID deactivation and customer misbehaviour.

3. India signs free trade pact with 4 European nations, eyes $100bn in investment

India signed a free trade agreement (FTA) with four European countries — Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland — on Sunday, with a goal of reaching $100 billion in investments in India and one million jobs within 15 years.

The Trade and Economic Partnership Agreement (TEPA) marks the second such full-fledged FTA signed after India’s agreement with the United Arab Emirates, and will see considerable tariff reductions, increase market access, and simplify customs procedures.

The European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries, which are separate from the European Union, said that, for the first time, the FTA also included a chapter on commitments to human rights and sustainable development.

The agreement will come into force after ratification by the EFTA states according to their parliamentary procedures, expected possibly by the end of the year.

‘Commitment a goal’

Touting the clauses on investment as a unique achievement, Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal said it was “for the first time in the history of the world that we are inking an FTA with a binding commitment to invest $100 billion in India from EFTA countries”. However, EFTA Ministers clarified that the commitment was in fact, a “goal” for both sides, based on the current levels of investment pegged at about $10.7 billion, as well as GDP predictions, and the estimated value of the TEPA.

According to the TEPA’s Chapter 7 that deals with “Investment Promotion andCooperation”, the two sides had shared “objectives” to increase foreign direct investment from EFTA states into India by $50 billion within 10 years and another $50 billion in the next five years. It would also “aim to facilitate the generation of 1 million jobs within 15 years in India” resulting from those investments. “States cannot decide where companies invest,” Norwegian Trade Minister Jan Christian Vestre told presspersons in a briefing. “It’s about creating the right environment, speaking to our companies and then tracing and tracking development”, he said, adding that the investments by EFTA companies would be assessed periodically.

If the goals are not achieved within 15 years, with a three-year grace period and another two years in negotiations, India will be entitled to withdrawing some of its trade concessions “temporarily”, the agreement says.

Apart from Mr. Vestre, the EFTA Ministers who flew into Delhi for the signing of the agreement were Swiss Federal Councillor Guy Parmelin, Iceland Foreign Affairs Minister Bjarni Benediktsson, and Liechtenstein Foreign Affairs Minister Dominique Hasler.

4. Panel, headed by PM, likely to appoint new ECs by March 15

With the announcement of 2024 Lok Sabha election expected to be made any day after March 13, the government is keen to speed up the appointment and fill the vacancies in the next few days

The two vacancies in the Election Commission (EC), created by the surprise resignation of Arun Goel and the retirement of Anup Chandra Pandey, are likely to be filled by March 15, sources indicated on Sunday.

A high-level selection committee, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and comprising a Union Minister and the Leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury, is likely to meet on March 14.

Earlier, the selection committee was scheduled to meet on March 15 to fill the vacancy of Mr. Pandey, who retired on February 14. However, after the sudden resignation of Mr. Goel, the EC is left with Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Rajiv Kumar as the sole member.

Keen to fill up the vacancies at the earliest, sources told The Hindu that the Opposition leader has been sounded out about a change of date to advance the meeting date by a day or two.

“Election Commission or Election OMISSION? India now has only ONE Election Commissioner, even as Lok Sabha elections are to be announced in few days. Why? As I have said earlier, if we do NOT stop the systematic decimation of our independent institutions, our DEMOCRACY shall be usurped by DICTATORSHIP!” Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge had asked in a post on X on Saturday.

With the announcement of Lok Sabha election expected to be made any day after March 13, the government is keen to speed up the appointment process in the next few days.

Shortlisting of names

Before the selection panel finalises the names of the commissioners, a search committee under Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal will prepare a shortlist of five names for each post.

The search committee includes the Union Home Secretary and the Secretary, Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT).

The Election Commissioners will be appointed by the President.

Both the Election Commissioners would be appointed under a new law that was passed by Parliament during the Winter Session in December.

Opposition parties had opposed the Bill on the ground that the poll panel could lose its autonomous character.

5. Two heads better than one, said SC on CEC’s solitary vigil

Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) Rajiv Kumar is in sole charge of the Election Commission (EC) with the resignation of Election Commissioner Arun Goel ahead of the Lok Sabha polls’ announcement, and the Supreme Court has said that it is ill-advised to leave an institution with such vast, exclusive and uncontrolled powers in the hands of one person, however wise he or she may be.

“There is no doubt that two heads are better than one, and particularly when an institution like the EC is entrusted with vital functions, and is armed with exclusive uncontrolled powers to execute them, it is both necessary and desirable that the powers are not exercised by one individual, however, all-wise he may be,” a Division Bench of the SC observed in a judgment in 1991.

The Supreme Court, in S.S. Dhanoa vs Union of India, said one person at the helm of the powerful poll body was against the “tenets of democratic rule”.

“A single individual may sometimes prove capable of withstanding all the pulls and pressures. However, when vast powers are exercised by an institution which is accountable to none, it is politic to entrust its affairs to more hands than one. It helps to assure judiciousness and want of arbitrariness,” the top court reasoned.

Seshan case verdict

However, four years later, a Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, in the T.N. Seshan case judgment, rather muddied the water with a single quizzical line.

The line in the judgment read that the EC could either be a single-member body or a multi-member body. The discretion was that of the President.

“The EC can therefore be a single-member body or a multi-member body if the President considers it necessary to appoint one or more Election Commissioners,” the five-judge Bench had mentioned.

The Constitution Bench was interpreting clause 2 of Article 324, which said “the Election Commission shall consist of the Chief Election Commissioner and such number of other Election Commissioners, if any, as the President may from time-to-time fix…”

But the Bench goes on to agree with the S.S. Dhanoa judgment that a multi-member Election Commission was perfectly in tune with the plain language of Article 324 (superintendence, direction and control of elections to be vested in an Election Commission).

6. Report turns spotlight on India’s ‘zero-food children’

A recent study had ranked India as having the third-highest percentage of children who had not eaten any food for 24 hours; experts say rapid urbanisation is fuelling malnutrition in country

Sunita Gautam, a 26-year-old domestic help, wonders if she will be able to provide her 11-month-old boy the nutrition he requires. “My child is mainly dependent on breastmilk. At times, I give him porridge, but that too not every day as he takes time to eat and is more habituated to breastmilk. I have a very busy daily routine. If I don’t earn money, how can I provide a better life for my child?” Ms. Gautam, who works in Lucknow’s Vishal Khand area, asked.

Ms. Gautam’s baby is likely to be one of the millions of “zero-food children” aged six months to 23 months in Uttar Pradesh. These infants have not eaten any food of substantial calorific content — semi-solid, solid,soft, or mushy food, infant formula or fresh milk — for 24 hours.

A study published recently in the peer-reviewed JAMA Network Open journal found the prevalence of zero-food children in India at 19.3%, drawing attention to extreme food deprivation among children. The study ranks India as having the third-highest percentage of zero-food children, above only Guinea (21.8%) and Mali (20.5%). In terms of numbers, India has the highest number of zero-food children at more than six million.

Another study published in 2023 in eClinical Medicine, part of the noted Lancet Discovery Science, found that Uttar Pradesh alone accounts for 28.4% of zero-food children in India.

“The States of Uttar Pradesh (28.4%), Bihar (14.2%), Maharashtra (7.1%), Rajasthan (6.5%), and Madhya Pradesh (6%) account for nearly two-thirds of the total zero-food children in India,” the report said.

“My husband is an alcoholic. He spends most of his time at home but I cannot trust him to feed the child. He may harm the child as it takes time to feed him [the baby],” Ms. Gautam said.

Shalini Singh, a public health specialist, argues that alongside poverty and marginalisation in economic backgrounds, it is rapid urbanisation and nuclearised families that have contributed to such a large number of “zero food children” in India’s most populous State.

She said lack of awareness about the nutritional needs of children, and misconceptions, also contribute to the numbers.

“Women from underprivileged economic backgrounds work to sustain their families, resulting in their having insufficient time to complement breastfeeding for children above six months of age. With rapid industrialisation, nuclear families have grown in both urban and rural areas, so there is no one to invest the time and energy required to feed a child, apart from the mother,” she said, adding that lack of awareness about nutritional needs of children, and social misconceptions, also contribute to the likely numbers.

Uttar Pradesh’s urban population is approximately 23%, according to the 2011 Census and had grown by more than 25% in 2011 when compared with 2001, signifying a large number of poor moving towards urban centres in search of a livelihood.

7. ‘Rail roko’ protest by farmers affects train services in Punjab

Farmers on Sunday squatted on railway tracks at many places in Punjab as part of a ‘rail roko’ protest called by the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (Non-Political) and the Kisan Mazdoor Morcha to press the Centre to accept their demands, including a legal guarantee of Minimum Support Price (MSP).

Movement of several trains was affected in Punjab on Sunday. The protest was held from 12 noon till 4 pm. The farmers sat on railway tracks at many locations in 22 districts.

According to railway authorities, nine trains were cancelled and many trains were either short-terminated or short-originated.

Farmer leaders Sarwan Singh Pandher and Jagjit Singh Dallewal claimed that their ‘rail roko’ agitation was successful. “Till a concrete resolution is offered by the government to our demands, we will continue our struggle,” Mr. Pandher said.

Besides a legal guarantee of MSP, the farmers are demanding the implementation of the Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations, pension for farmers and farm labourers, no hike in electricity tariff, withdrawal of police cases and “justice” for the victims of the 2021 Lakhimpur Kheri violence, reinstatement of the Land Acquisition Act, 2013, and compensation to the families of the farmers who died during a previous agitation in 2020-21.

The protesting farmers from Punjab have been camping at the Shambhu and Khanauri border points since February 13, when security forces stopped them from marching towards Delhi.

8. 7,396 golden langurs in India, reveals survey

There are an estimated 7,396 golden langurs in India, the latest survey of the primate has revealed. The comprehensive population estimation of the endangered primate was carried out in two phases by the Primate Research Centre NE India (PRCNE), Assam Forest Department, Bodoland Territorial Council, Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History (SACON), and Conservation Himalayas.

The entire distribution range of the golden langur (Trachypithecus geei) covers the Manas Biosphere Reserve and all fragmented forests in the western part of Assam.

In the first phase during March-April 2020, the survey covered the western part of the Manas Biosphere Reserve, including Ripu Reserved Forest — a major part of it was recently upgraded to Raimona National Park – Chirang Reserve Forest, Manas Reserve Forest, and Manas National Park up to the western bank of the Manas River.

The second phase during the same months in 2021 focused on fragmented forest habitats of golden langurs in the Bongaigaon, Kokrajhar, and Dhubri districts of western Assam. The block count method was applied for the first time to assess the abundance, spatial distribution, and densities of the golden langur populations.

“This method is considered to be relatively simple, cost-effective, and robust for arboreal and small group-living primates such as the golden langur,” H.N. Kumara, the principal scientist of SACON, said.

The golden langur habitat was demarcated into 51 counting blocks, each overlaid with 50-hectare grid cells. Ten teams, each comprising one or two trained enumerators and three to four forest staff, surveyed the blocks.

“We observed 7,720 individuals of golden langurs in 706 unique groups and 31 lone males or floating males. Estimating minimum population size, we found there to be 7,396 individuals in 707 groups, inclusive of bisexual and male bands, along with 31 lone males,” Jihosuo Biswas, the lead primatologist at PRCNE, said. He supervised the survey.

“The population of golden langurs is divided into two major sub-populations. The northern extended population, which encompasses the western part of the Manas Biosphere Reserve, extending from the Sankosh River to the Manas river up to the India-Bhutan border along the northern side of National Highway 27 and State Highway 2,” Dr. Biswas explained.

The northern population of the primate with the golden sheen was estimated at 5,566 in 534 groups and 23 lone males. The population of the southern fragments was estimated at 1,830 langurs in 173 groups and eight lone males.

‘Unstable situation’

While the Ripu Reserve Forest was home to the most (2,847) northern population golden langurs, Kokrajhar district’s Chakrashila Wildlife Sanctuary had 838 individuals, the most in the southern fragmented range of the primate.

The previous population estimation in 2008-09, also conducted under the supervision of Dr. Biswas, recorded 6,000 golden langurs in India. Each group then had has average of 9.24 individuals, which was 1,45 individuals less than the average group recorded in the latest survey.

On the flip side, the survey report underlined an unstable situation in the fragmented habitats of the golden langurs, particularly due to the absence of non-breeding all-male bands. The primatologists involved in the survey highlighted the need for corridor linkage among the fragmented habitats through plantations and canopy bridges to offset potential threats the primates face from anthropogenic interactions.

CISF officer blames online gambling for deaths

A senior Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) officer has flagged online gambling and fraud as new factors pushing personnel to end their lives.

To a question related to mental health and instances of suicides among thepersonnel, CISF Special Director-General Piyush Anand said in most cases, the reasons behind the suicides were personal and not professional. He added that the force was conducting financial literacy classes to train staff against the possible pitfalls of gambling.

Mr. Anand was addressing a press conference on the occasion of the CISF’s 55th Raising Day.

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