The News Editorial Analysis 2nd December 2021

The News Editorial Analysis 2nd December 2021

The News Editorial Analysis 2nd December 2021

GST collection surges in November

Gross Goods and Services Tax (GST) revenue collections in November (for sales in October) rose 25.3 per cent year-on-year to Rs 1,31,526 crore. This is the second highest revenue collection under GST ever since its rollout in July 2017, and has two specific triggers: a pickup in economic activity alongside multiple compliance measures and increased surveillance undertaken by the tax authorities. These compliance measures include auto-population of returns, blocking of e-way bills and passing of input tax credit for non-filers taken by tax authorities for curbing evasion. GST collections at Rs 1,41,384 crore in April this year, accounting for year-end sales, are the highest level so far in the indirect tax regime. Gross GST revenue collected in November is Rs 1,31,526 crore, out of which CGST — the tax levied on intra state supplies of both goods and services by the Central Government — is Rs 23,978 crore, SGST — the tax levied on intra state supplies of both goods and services by the states — is Rs 31,127 crore, IGST — tax levied on all inter-state supplies of goods and services — is Rs 66,815 crore (including Rs 32,165 crore collected on import of goods) and cess is Rs 9,606 crore (including Rs 653 crore collected on import of goods).The government has settled Rs 27,273 crore to CGST and Rs 22,655 crore to SGST from IGST as regular settlement. The total revenue of Centre and the states after regular settlements in the month of November 2021 is Rs 51,251 crore for CGST and Rs 53,782 crore for the SGST. Centre has also released Rs 17,000 crore to States/UTs towards GST compensation on November 3.GST revenues have picked up pace, posting 25.3 per cent year-on-year growth and 27 per cent growth over pre-pandemic period of 2019-20. The tax authorities are also taking stringent compliance measures to improve compliance.The Finance Ministry said that the recent trend of high GST revenues has been a result of various policy and administrative measures that have been taken in the past to improve compliance. “Central tax enforcement agencies, along with the state counterparts have detected large tax evasion cases, mainly cases relating to fake invoices, with the help of various IT tools developed by GSTN that use the return, invoice and e-way bill data to find suspicious taxpayers,” it said.“A large number of initiatives undertaken in the last one year like, enhancement of system capacity, nudging non-filers after last date of filing of returns, auto-population of returns, blocking of e-way bills and passing of input tax credit for non-filers has led to consistent improvement in the filing of returns over the last few months,” it added.

Point of disorder: On suspension of MPs

The suspension of 12 Opposition Members of Parliament from the Rajya Sabha for the entire winter session of Parliament, evidently an extreme step by Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu, has turned the spotlight on the use of disruption of proceedings as a parliamentary tactic. The Government and the Opposition should try and work a way out of this situation, but that may not resolve the underlying affliction of perennial conflict between the two sides. A guiding principle of parliamentary proceedings is that the majority, i.e. the Government, will have its way, and the minority, the Opposition, will have its say. This principle has been observed in its violation in India for several years now. As the principal Opposition in the years leading up to 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) so disrupted Parliament that a majority government was rendered dysfunctional for years; since 2014, in power, the BJP has tinkered with parliamentary processes in a way that the Opposition has been pinned down. Bills are passed in a hurry and even amidst din; the scrutiny of Bills by committees and debates are few and far between. Also, the decision to suspend Members for their conduct in the previous monsoon session at the beginning of a new session seems excessively punitive. This is no defence of disruption in general or the behaviour of the particular MPs, but the punishment is only worsening the conflict, and not facilitating debate.

Parliament is the platform where the executive is held accountable to the representatives of the people. That is where people’s representatives raise matters of public concern and seek the Government’s attention. The trend of weakening that process in the name of efficiency is not merely undermining the spirit of democracy; it is also landing the Government itself in a difficult spot as the mayhem that followed the hurried passage of three controversial farm laws last year shows. Parliamentary debates should not be viewed as a distraction or waste of time; they are a barometer of public mood and must be respected as such, by both the ruling side and the Opposition. Disruption as a brief, momentary reaction to a situation that demands debate is understandable, but as a sustained strategy, it is self-defeating. The absence of the Opposition will only leave the Government even more unchecked. It was the BJP’s Arun Jaitley who theorised on the legitimacy of disruptions as a parliamentary instrument. It is time to shun that idea. The Government must make amends to restore the function of Parliament by deferring to parliamentary mechanisms, and also through informal channels of communication with the Opposition.

Road to recovery: On sustaining growth

The latest GDP and GVA estimates from the National Statistical Office have affirmed that the economy is now on the path to recovery after last fiscal’s record contraction. Second quarter gross domestic product expanded 8.4%, rebounding from the year-earlier period’s 7.4% contraction. While the statistical advantage from the base effect surely aided the expansion, the economy appears to have gathered just enough momentum for GDP to post a marginal 0.3% growth even when compared with the second quarter of the pre-pandemic 2019-20 fiscal year. The gross value added figures, which capture the extent of activity across the eight major formal sectors of the real economy, too underscore the improvement, with the July-September 2021 GVA figure of ₹32.89-lakh crore registering a 0.5% expansion from the July-September period of 2019. Five of the eight sectors posted growth not just from the year-earlier quarter but also surpassed the pre-COVID-19 performance. Manufacturing, which has the second-largest share of GVA, appears to have regained traction and was the bulwark of GVA, logging a 3.9% expansion from the pre-pandemic second quarter of fiscal 2020. The key employment-providing services categories, however, are yet to fully recover from the pandemic’s devastating impact, and along with construction, another major provider of jobs, lagged pre-pandemic levels by a cumulative ₹77,000 crore. With the potential impact of the Omicron variant a big unknown, the outlook here may stay hazy for now.

A disaggregated view of the GDP data also reveals areas of concern that could undermine the recovery. Private final consumption expenditure that measures spending on everything from essentials to luxury goods and the entire gamut of services by all consumers, and has the largest share of GDP at 55%, is still treading water. The uncertainty induced by the pandemic, coupled with reduced or lost incomes, continues to depress demand and is mirrored in consumer spending still remaining 3.5% shy of the pre-COVID level. Government consumption spending, which has often been a reliable alternative source of demand with a capacity to serve as a multiplier, is also well below the fiscal 2020 second quarter, possibly by design as the Centre seeks to consolidate its fiscal position. Unless aggregate demand strengthens, the heartening uptick in business investment, as reflected in the 11% year-on-year jump in gross fixed capital formation, could come to naught with capacity additions remaining underutilised and corporate captains yet again tightening their purse strings. Manufacturing PMI data by IHS Markit has another salutary warning: rising input costs could force manufacturers to raise prices adding to the general inflationary pressures in the economy and undermine the recovery. Policy makers need to ramp up demand-supportive measures including increasing government spending to ensure that the recovery sustains and gains traction.

Errors of judgment

The Allahabad High Court recently held that oral sex with a minor (aged about 10 in this case) is not a case of ‘aggravated penetrative sexual assault’ under the Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act. This is shocking as Section 5(m) of the Act clearly lays down that “whoever commits penetrative sexual assault on a child below twelve years” is said to commit “aggravated penetrative sexual assault”. Section 6 prescribes punishment with imprisonment for a term which shall not be less than 10 years but may extend to imprisonment for life.Though para 16 of the judgment replicated Sections 3 to 10 of the Act, all verbatim, including Section 5(m), Justice Anil Kumar Ojha, in para 17, concluded that “putting penis into mouth does not fall in the category of aggravated (penetrative) sexual assault or sexual assault”. There seems to be a palpable error of law which must be set right quickly.The POCSO was enacted specially to protect children (of any sex) from offences of sexual assault, sexual harassment and pornography, realising the fact that a large number of such offences were neither specifically provided for nor adequately penalised. The Statement of Objects and Reasons of the Act reinforces the legislative intent, which was made clear by providing neutral definitions and enhanced punishments for various offences of sexual nature. Though Section 42 on ‘alternate punishment’ was specifically introduced in POCSO to award greater punishment, in case of difference when compared to any other law in force, the Indian Penal Code was also amended to remove anomalies in the quantum of punishment for same or similar offences.Second, there is no ambiguity about the language used in Section 5 of the Act. Recently, the Supreme Court, while dismissing the requirement of skin-to-skin physical contact in cases of sexual assault, held that where the language of a statute was clear, the intention of the legislature was to be gathered from the language used. In the absence of any ambiguity of language used in Section 5 about the definition of ‘aggravated penetrative sexual assault’, there was no reason for the Court to deviate from the law and award lesser punishment. The ‘rule of lenity’, though not discussed in the judgment, had no application in the case.Third, it was not a case where the Court had any discretion to award lesser punishment than the minimum 10 years as prescribed in Section 6 of POCSO. Earlier, the Courts had discretion under Section 376 (punishment for rape) of the IPC to award lesser punishment than the minimum prescribed by recording ‘adequate and specific reasons’. The Supreme Court, in State of Rajasthan v. Vinod Kumar (2012), set aside the High Court order which reduced sentences less than the minimum without recording ‘adequate and special reasons’. However, this discretion was taken away by amending Section 376 of the IPC in February 2013. Since the POCSO Act does not provide any discretion in awarding punishment of imprisonment, the High Court was mandated to adhere to the statutory provisions.Four, the High Court did not deliberate on the reasons for not considering the offence as being of aggravated nature. The age of the victim was recorded as about 10 years and did not fall even under the category of marginal difference from 12 years. The Supreme Court has held that recording of reasons by a judge is not a mere task of formality, but an exercise of judicial accountability and transparency. This makes the decision available for further scrutiny at the touchstone of reason and justice. Five, it was not even a case where the provision of minimum punishment of 10 years imprisonment for aggravated penetrative sexual assault was under challenge for being disproportionate (to the objective of protecting children aged less than 12 years) as compared to the gravity of the offence under Article 14 of the Constitution. When no such test of reasonableness was under scrutiny, the Court fell into error by not considering the offence under the applicable relevant sections.

Judge attending own case irks Supreme Court

The News Editorial Analysis 2nd December 2021

Taking exception to the fact a judicial officer appeared before the Supreme Court for his service cases instead of holding his own court, the top court on Wednesday said it is a sorry state of affairs.A bench of JusticesL Nageswara Rao, B R Gavai and B V Nagarathna was hearing a plea by a civil judge working with Delhi judiciary when the bench queried about his presence in court. “Why are you not holding court now? It is almost 10.50 am on a Wednesday. Why are you here?” the bench questioned. At this, the judge replied that he had taken a short leave to appear in the case. “This is a real sorry state of affairs. It is 10.50 am and you are here. We don’t even see you repenting,” Justice Rao remarked.The court noted that the current applications are by the Delhi High Court and a Delhi judicial officer seeking modification of an earlier order that imposed five years of experience as a condition for elevation of a civil judge in the senior division to the post of district judge.The bench observed that it would not pass orders at this stage, but invite applications and appointed Siddharth Bhatnagar as amicus curiae and slated the next hearing for the first week of January.

Earth Fungal Networks

Fungi form an underground network of connections with plant roots, helping to recycle nutrients and to lock up planet-warming CO2 in the soil.But little is known about this giant mesh of fungi and its role in fighting climate change.It is part of what’s popularly known as the Wood Wide Web.This is an underground network of plant roots and fungi that, among other things, allows trees to share nutrients.And scientists say “underground conservation” has been long overlooked.The initiative to map and preserve the Earth’s underground fungal networks is led by the Society for the Protection of Underground Networks.It is the start of an “underground climate movement” to protect “this ancient life support system” said Toby Kiers, professor of evolutionary biology at VU University in Amsterdam.Local experts, dubbed “myconauts” after mycology, the study of fungi, will collect 10,000 samples over the next 18 months to compile a global map of fungal hotspots.

Rain to replace snow in the Arctic as climate heats, study finds

Rain will replace snow as the Arctic’s most common precipitation as the climate crisis heats up the planet’s northern ice cap, according to research.Today, more snow falls in the Arctic than rain. But this will reverse, the study suggests, with all the region’s land and almost all its seas receiving more rain than snow before the end of the century if the world warms by 3C. Pledges made by nations at the recent Cop26 summit could keep the temperature rise to a still disastrous 2.4C, but only if these promises are met.

Even if the global temperature rise is kept to 1.5C or 2C, the Greenland and Norwegian Sea areas will still become rain dominated. Scientists were shocked in August when rain fell on the summit of Greenland’s huge ice cap for the first time on record.The research used the latest climate models, which showed the switch from snow to rain will happen decades faster than previously estimated, with autumn showing the most dramatic seasonal changes. For example, it found the central Arctic will become rain dominated in autumn by 2060 or 2070 if carbon emissions are not cut, instead of by 2090 as predicted by earlier models.The implications of a switchover were “profound”, the researchers said, from accelerating global heating and sea level rise to melting permafrost, sinking roads, and mass starvation of reindeer and caribou in the region. Scientists think the rapid heating in the Arctic may also be increasing extreme weather events such as floods and heatwaves in Europe, Asia and North America by changing the jet stream. “What happens in the Arctic doesn’t stay there,” said Michelle McCrystall at the University of Manitoba in Canada, who led the new research. “You might think the Arctic is far removed from your day-to-day life, but in fact temperatures there have warmed up so much that [it] will have an impact further south.“In the central Arctic, where you would imagine there should be snowfall in the whole of the autumn period, we’re actually seeing an earlier transition to rainfall. That will have huge implications. The Arctic having very strong snowfall is really important for everything in that region and also for the global climate, because it reflects a lot of sunlight.”Prof James Screen of the University of Exeter in the UK, who was part of the research team, said: “The new models couldn’t be clearer that unless global warming is stopped, the future Arctic will be wetter, once-frozen seas will be open water, rain will replace snow.”Scientists already agree that precipitation will increase significantly in the Arctic in future, as more water evaporates from increasingly warmer and ice-free seas. But the research, published in the journal Nature Communications, found this would be hugely dominated by rain, which will more than treble in autumn by 2100 if emissions are not cut.The scientists concluded: “The transition from a snow- to rain-dominated Arctic in the summer and autumn is projected to occur decades earlier and at a lower level of global warming, potentially under 1.5C, with profound climatic, ecosystem and socioeconomic impacts.”Snow is important in producing sea ice each winter, so less snow means less ice and more heat absorbed by open oceans. The research shows rain increasing on the southern coast of Greenland. This could further accelerate the sliding of glaciers into the ocean and the consequent rise in sea levels that threatens many coastal areas.Much of the land in the Arctic is tundra, where the soil has been permanently frozen, but more rain would change that. “You are putting warm water into the ground that might melt the permafrost and that will have global implications, because as we know, permafrost is a really great sink of carbon and of methane,” said McCrystall.The impacts in the region include the melting of vital ice roads, more floods, and starvation for herds of animals. When rain falls on snow and then freezes, it stops the animals feeding. “The reindeer, caribou and musk oxen can’t break through the layer of ice, so they can’t get to the grass they need to survive and suffer huge die-offs,” she said.Prof Richard Allan, at the University of Reading in the UK, who was not involved in the research, said: “Exploiting a state-of-the-art set of complex computer simulations, this new study paints a worrying picture of future Arctic climate change that is more rapid and substantial than previously thought. This research rings alarm bells for the Arctic and beyond.”However, Gavin Schmidt of the Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies in the US said the claim of more rapid change was “unsupported”, because some of the new climate models forecast warmer than expected future temperatures.

Two new dinosaur predators discovered in England’s Isle of Wight

Fossils found on a rocky beach show there was double trouble on England’s Isle of Wight about 127 million years ago, with a pair of large previously unknown dinosaur predators living perhaps side by side, both adapted to hunting along the water’s edge.Scientists on Wednesday announced the discovery of fossils of the two Cretaceous Period meat-eaters – both measuring about 30 feet long (9 meters) and boasting elongated crocodile-like skulls – on the southwest of the island, one of Europe’s richest locales for dinosaur remains.They are examples of a type of dinosaur called a spinosaur, known for long and narrow skulls with lots of conical teeth -perfect for grasping slippery fish – as well as strong arms and big claws. One is named Ceratosuchops inferodios, meaning “horned crocodile-faced hell heron.” The name refers to a heron because of that bird’s shoreline-foraging lifestyle. Ceratosuchops had a series of low horns and bumps ornamenting its brow region.The second is named Riparovenator milnerae, meaning “Milner’s riverbank hunter,” honoring British paleontologist Angela Milner, who died in August. It may have been slightly larger than Ceratosuchops.They would basically have eaten anything small they could grab,” said paleontologist and study co-author David Hone of Queen Mary University of London. Spinosaurs were part of the broad group of bipedal meat-eating dinosaurs called theropods that included the likes of Tyrannosaurus rex.As semi-aquatic hunters, spinosaurs targeted different prey and lacked the massive, boxier skull and large serrated teeth of T. rex, which inhabited North America about 60 million years later.Ceratosuchops and Riparovenator roamed a floodplain environment bathed in a subtropical Mediterranean-like climate. Forest fires occasionally ravaged the landscape, with fossils of burned wood found throughout Isle of Wight cliffs.With a large river and other bodies of water attracting plant-eating dinosaurs and hosting numerous bony fish, sharks and crocodiles, the habitat provided Ceratosuchops and Riparovenator plenty of hunting opportunities, Barker said.These two cousins may have lived at the same time, perhaps differing in prey preference, or may have been separated a bit in time, the researchers said. There was a third roughly contemporaneous spinosaur named Baryonyx, whose fossils were unearthed in the 1980s, that lived nearby and was about the same size, maybe slightly smaller.Partial remains of Ceratosuchops and Riparovenator were discovered near the town of Brighstone. Ceratosuchops is known from skull material, while Riparovenator is known from both skull and tail material. There are braincase remains for both, giving particular insight into these creatures.The fossils helped the scientists produce a family tree of spinosaurs, indicating the lineage originated in Europe before moving into Africa, Asia and South America, according to University of Southampton paleobiologist Neil Gostling, who supervised the research project. The largest one, Spinosaurus, reached 50 feet (15 meters) long and lived in North Africa roughly 95 million years ago. It differed from its Isle of Wight forerunners, boasting a large sail-like structure on its back and adaptations for a more aquatic lifestyle.


The News Editorial Analysis 1st December 2021

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