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In news:

The Supreme Court has upheld the Delhi High Court order on permanent commission to women in the Army.

In brief:

  • The petition was filed by a group of 332 women army officers, who joined the army from 1993 onwards.
  • The Supreme Court ordered the government to grant permanent commission to women officers in the Army’s noncombat support units on par with their male counterparts should they wish to continue with it after completing their short- service commission, while adding that the officers will be now eligible for command posting.
  • The permanent commission will apply to all women officers in the Army in service, irrespective of their years of service.
  • Supreme Court directed Centre to grant permanent commission within 3 months to all women officers who opt for it.
  • Importantly, this Supreme Court ruling does not grant women the right to serve in combat units. However, it dismisses the government’s contention that women would be permitted to serve only in staff assignments, and not in command billets.

Insight into Other services:

  • Women already serve in combat roles in the air force, which last year qualified its first women fighter pilots.
  • Women naval officers already perform combat tasks, such as firing torpedoes and missiles at enemy warships while serving as observers and weapons systems officers on board maritime aircraft like the P-8I Poseidon. Just 3.8 per cent of the army’s 42,253 officers, 6 per cent of the navy’s 10,393 officers and 13.1 per cent of the air force’s 12,404 officers are women.

Joint Military Commands

In news:

Instead of having separate commands for every service, the CDS is working on having a joint or theatre command that can carry out all war-fighting formations under a single commander.

In brief:

  • The Western and the Eastern Command of the Indian Navy will be merged into a single command, to be called the Peninsular Command and theatre commands will be rolled out by 2022.
  • The area of the command is planned to start from Sir Creek area in west and Sunderbans in east and downwards.
  • The Navy chief will have operational control of the command, which will have “some” assets of both IAF and the Navy.
  • Theaterisation means putting specific units of personnel from the three services — Army, Navy and Air Force — under a common theatre commander so they fight as a cohesive unit. Both US and China follow a theatre command doctrine.
  • There are about 19 military commands in the country and only two of them are tri-service commands – Andaman and Nicobar Command (ANC) and the Strategic Forces Command, which looks after nuclear assets.While the Army and the Air Force have seven commands each, the Navy has three commands.

India’s Bird Population Suffers Long-Term Decline

In news?

The State of India’s Birds 2020 (SoIB) assessment raises the alarm that several spectacular birds, many of them endemic to the subcontinent, face a growing threat from loss of habitat.

More in news:

  • Over a fifth of India’s bird diversity, ranging from the Short-toed Snake Eagle to the SirkeerMalkoha, has suffered strong long-term declines
  • Each and every bird species that was found to be increasing in numbers over the long term and 11 have suffered losses.
  • 80% loss among several common birds
  • Rufous-fronted Prinia, Nilgiri Thrush, Nilgiri Pipit and Indian vulture were confirmed as suffering current decline
  • Migratory shorebirds, along with gulls and terns, seem to have declined the most among water birds.

Threats:

  • Due to human activity, widespread presence of toxins, including pesticides; hunting and trapping for the pet trade.

Concern:

Habitats of species of high concern are notably grasslands, scrublands, wetlands and the Western Ghats.

IUCN Redlist:

  • Rufous-fronted Prinia : Least concern
  • Indian vulture: Critically Endangered
  • Nilgiri thrush: Endangered
  • Nilgiri pipit : Vulnerable

Related fact:

  • The common sparrow had become rare in cities and urban areas.
  • Reason for this is a decrease in insect populations as well as nesting places

Why RBI Is Aligning Accounting Year With Fiscal Year

In News:

In order to ensure more effective management of the country’s finances RBI is aligning its July-June accounting year with the government’s April-March fiscal year.

In Brief:

How did the RBI’s July-June accounting year come to be?

  • RBI commenced operations on April 1, 1935, with Sir Osborne Smith as its first Governor the RBI followed a January-December accounting year.
  • On March 11, 1940, however, the bank changed its accounting year to July-June.
  • Now, after nearly eight decades, the RBI is making another switch: the next accounting year will be a nine-month period from July 2020 to March 31, 2021 and thereafter, all financial years will start from April, as it happens with the central and state governments.

Why RBI’s are accounts important?

  • The RBI’s balance sheet plays a critical role in the functioning of the country’s economy largely reflecting the activities carried out in pursuance of its currency issue function, as well as monetary policy and reserve management objectives.
  • The RBI Act says the central bank “shall undertake to accept monies for account of the Central Government and to make payments up to the amount standing to the credit of, and to carry out (its exchange), remittance and other banking operations, including the management of the public debt”.
  • The RBI is the country’s monetary authority, regulator, and supervisor of the financial system, manager of foreign exchange, issuer of currency, regulator and supervisor of payment and settlement systems, banker to the central and the state governments, and also banker to banks.

But why is the system being changed?

  • The Bimal Jalan Committee on Economic Capital Framework (ECF) of the RBI had proposed a more transparent presentation of the RBI’s annual accounts, and a change in its accounting year to April-March from the financial year 2020-21.
  • The committee said the RBI would be able to provide better estimates of projected surplus transfers to the government for the financial year for budgeting purposes.
  • It is also expected to result in better management of transfer of dividend or surplus to the government. Moreover, as governments, companies, and other institutions follow the April-March year, it will help with effective management of accounting.
  • In May 2018, when Urjit Patel was Governor, the RBI appointed its first ever Chief Financial Officer (CFO), Sudha Balakrishnan

What will be impact of the change?

  • The change in the fiscal year could reduce the need for interim dividend being paid by the RBI, and such payments may then be restricted to extraordinary circumstances.
  • It will obviate any timing considerations that may enter into the selection of open market operations or Market Stabilization Scheme as monetary policy tools.
  • It will also bring greater cohesiveness in monetary policy projections and reports published by the RBI, which mostly use the fiscal year as the base. The Jalan Panel said that in Last fiscal, the RBI paid Rs 28,000 crore as interim dividend; in 2017-18, the government received Rs 10,000 crore. In RBI’s balance sheet, while capital and reserve fund are explicitly shown, other sources of financial resilience are grouped under ‘Other Liabilities and Provisions’ and enumerated via Schedules, making it difficult to arrive at total risk provisions.

Mood’s Cuts India GDP Forecast; Demand, Credit Growth Critical

In News:

  • Ratings agency Moody’s slashed its 2020 growth projection for India to 5.4% from 6.6% forecast earlier on the back of slower recovery, citing largely domestic factors and cautioning that global economy will be adversely impacted by the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak.
  • It revised downward the GDP growth forecast for China to 5.2% in 2020, warning severe downside risks to the global economy if the coronavirus grows to pandemic proportions.
  • India is forecast to grow 5.8% in 2021 against 6.7% estimated earlier, while China is pegged slightly lower at 5.7% in 2021.

Court Begins Hearing On Religious Rights

In News:

Supreme Court Begins Hearing On Issues Related To Freedom Of Religion.

In Brief:

  • The Constitution Bench, headed by Chief Justice S.A. Bobde, made these observations as it commenced hearing to deliberate upon the issues pertaining to the scope of freedom of religion as also of judicial scrutiny into “essential religious practices” of separate “religious denominations.
  • The Bench is also examining the issue whether a person, who does not belong to a particular faith, can file a PIL petition questioning the religious practice of another religion or sect of a religion.
  • The questions have arisen out of a judgment in the Sabarimala case.
  • The IPC can be read as the guard against the practice of human sacrifices, because it is murder under the IPC. Likewise ‘sati’ also amounted to murder.
  • Even a religious aspect can be the subject matter of reform,” said the Bench, which also included Justices R. Banumathi, Ashok Bhushan, L. Nageswara Rao, M.M. Shantanagoudar, S.A. Nazeer, R. Subhash Reddy, B.R. Gavai and Surya Kant.
  • Examining the scope of judicial power in religious matters, it gave illustration of practice of giving offerings or money in temples and said they were part of religious practices.
  • But if money is being used for terrorism or for running a casino etc. then this is secular part of the religion and can be regulated by the law,” it said. It also said financial activities of a religious trust pertaining to “donations, hygiene and health” can be regulated by laws.
  • Even if there is an essential religious practice, it can be regulated if it affects the three grounds [public order, morality and health] in Article 26,” Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said while initiating submissions on behalf of the Centre.
  • The Bench said “This is the hallmark of our Constitution,” while giving examples of practices of “human sacrifices” and ‘sati’ being held illegal.
  • Mr. Mehta referred to Articles 25 and 26 and said all persons have freedom of religion “subject to public order, morality and health” and every “religious denomination” shall have the right to establish, own, maintain and manage religious institutions.
  • “Defining ‘religious denomination’ would be the most crucial part during the course of this hearing,”.