Current Affairs 2017 - April

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Union Cabinet decides to ban use of red beacon by VIPs from May 1

The Union Cabinet has put a ban on the use of red beacons atop cars of VIPs. Only three categories were exempted from the ban. They are the President, Vice-President and Chief Justice of India. The exemption also applies to the emergency service vehicles. Accordingly, fire brigade, ambulance services, police vehicles and other emergency services will be allowed to use the blue beacon. The decision will come into force from May 1, 2017. In effect, the ban is applicable to the prime minister, union ministers, chief ministers, state cabinet ministers, bureaucrats and judges of the High Court and Supreme Court. The decision was taken to end VIP culture.

As per the existing practice, a red light beacon can be used atop of vehicles of high dignitaries specified by the Central and State government. As per the notification issued by the Ministry of Road Transport & Highways in 2005, the following dignitaries were eligible to use red light with a flasher. They are the President, Vice-President, Prime Minister, Former President, Deputy Prime Minister, Chief Justice of India, Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Cabinet Ministers of the Union, Deputy Chairman Planning Commission, Former Prime Ministers, Leaders of Oppositions in the Rajya Sabha & Lok Sabha, Judges of the Supreme Court. As per the present decision, neither the state nor the central government can nominate any members to use the red beacon.

Need

The Supreme Court in 2013 directed States to amend the Motor Vehicle Rules to restrict the use of the red beacon. It had stated that only constitutional authorities should be allowed to use the red beacon. The decision of the cabinet assumes significance in the aftermath of the attack on the Parliament in 2001. During the attack, the terrorists entered the Parliament complex through a vehicle fitted with a red beacon. With this decision, it would be easier for the traffic authorities to nab violators illegally using red beacons and prevent the repeat of 2001 incidents.

Recently, the Chief Ministers of Uttar Pradesh and Punjab decided not to use the red beacon on their official cars.

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Union Cabinet clears Election Commission’s proposal to buy VVPAT machines

The Union Cabinet has cleared the Election Commission’s proposal to buy new Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trail (VVPAT) machines. The machines are expected to be used in the 2019 General Elections. The Union Cabinet has permitted the Election Commission (EC) to procure 16,15,000 units, at an estimated base price of Rs. 3,173.47 crore. So far, EC has sent at least 11 reminders to the Centre seeking funds for procuring VVPAT machines.

The Centre has chosen Bengaluru-based Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) and Hyderabad-based Electronics Corporation of India Ltd (ECIL) to manufacture the VVPAT units. The government has also directed the Price Negotiation Committee to negotiate the final unit price. It is expected that the two PSUs will need at least 30 months to produce over 16 lakh VVPATs.

Need

The Supreme Court has asked the Election Commission to come up with a tentative time period by which it can use VVPAT machines across all polling stations of the country. The Supreme Court has directed the EC to conduct 2019 national elections entirely with these upgraded machines. Earlier in 2013, SC had directed the EC to introduce VVPAT in a phased manner for 2014 general elections. SC had observed that VVPAT will ensure free and fair polls and help in sorting out disputes.

Earlier in 2013, SC had directed the EC to introduce VVPAT in a phased manner for 2014 general elections. SC had observed that VVPAT will ensure free and fair polls and help in sorting out disputes.

Election Commission has been accused by sixteen parties like Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), and the congress for allegedly deploying ‘tampered’ EVMs. They have also petitioned EC to revert back to paper ballot system for greater transparency.

VVPAT machines- Significance

The usage of VVPAT machines of the Election Commission is expected to ensure free and fair elections. In the VVPAT system, when a voter presses the button for a candidate of his choice in the electronic voting machines (EVM), a paper ballot containing the serial number, the name of the candidate and poll symbol will be printed for the voter. The voters will be able to view the voter-verifiable paper audit trail slip for seven seconds after which it will get deposited in a sealed box.

VVPAT machines can be regarded as an independent verification system as it (i) allows voters to verify that their votes are cast correctly, (ii) detects possible election fraud or malfunction and (iii) Provides a means to audit the stored electronic results.

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Chinese President announces military restructure of PLA

Chinese President Xi Jinping has announced a restructure of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) with an aim to make it as a leaner fighting force with enhanced joint operations capability. President Xi Jinping is the chair of the Central Military Commission, and also commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

The present restructure is the second major phase of President Xi’s reforms. Earlier in September 2015, President Xi announced a reduction in the number of military personnel by 300,000. Those reforms also included establishing a joint operational command structure by 2020. Xi is also seen rooting out corruption in the military by jailing dozens of senior military officers.

China is also rapidly upgrading its military hardware owing to its increasingly assertive stance about its sovereignty claims in the South China Sea and its plans to expand its military influence overseas.

Salient highlights

  • The new structure of PLA will have 84 units. All the 84 units will be at the combined-corps level so that the commanders will hold the rank of major-general or rear-admiral.
  • The members of the units would likely be regrouped from existing forces.
  • All the 84 units will be placed under 15 agencies.
  • The military restructure will be carried out by placing greater emphasis on new capabilities including cyberspace, electronic and information warfare.

Impact

Though, the impact of the restructure on PLA’s fighting capabilities are not clear, experts feel that restructure could aid in breaking up the PLA into more modular units. It is expected to make the units small enough to be transportable and agile

 People’s Liberation Army is the world’s largest standing military.

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