Today's Headlines

Today's Headlines - 03 May 2023

Voyager 2 probe gets new lease of life

GS Paper – 3 (Space Technology)

The Voyager 2 spacecraft was launched in 1977 and it is now more than 20 billion kilometres away from Earth. Now, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) says that it plans to keep the spacecraft’s science instruments turned on for a few years longer than previously anticipated.

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  1. The ageing Voyager 2 spacecraft has begun using a small reservoir of backup power to keep its instruments working despite a reduced power supply.
  2. This backup power was set aside as part of an onboard safety mechanism. The spacecraft was scheduled to shut down its science instruments this year, but with this move, it can continue operating them until 2026.
  3. Voyager 2 and Voyager 1 are the only spacecraft that have ever operated outside the heliosphere, which is considered to be the border of our solar system.
  4. The heliosphere is a bubble of particles and magnetic fields generated by the Sun. Both the Voyager spacecraft is helping scientists better understand the heliosphere and how it protects our planet from interstellar energetic particles and other radiation.
  5. The science data that the Voyagers are returning gets more valuable the farther away from the Sun they go, so we are definitely interested in keeping as many science instruments operating as long as possible.

Power-saving measures for Voyager 2

  1. Both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are powered by radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) or “nuclear batteries.” These nuclear batteries convert the heat from decaying plutonium into electricity.
  2. Since the plutonium is continuously decaying, it means that the generator produces lesser and lesser power as time goes on.
  3. The declining power supply has not impacted the mission’s science objectives so far. This is because engineers have turned off heaters and other non-essential systems to keep the probes going.
  4. But they have run out of such power-conservation options on Voyager 2. Interestingly, one of Voyager 1’s science instruments failed early into the mission meaning that it could continue operating for almost another year before scientists have to consider new power-saving methods like the one tried with Voyager 2.


Supreme Court’s powers under Article 142

GS Paper -2 (Judiciary)

Article 142 provides a unique power to the Supreme Court, to do “complete justice” between the parties, where, at times, the law or statute may not provide a remedy. In those situations, the Court can extend itself to put an end to a dispute in a manner that would fit the facts of the case.

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The courts exercised this power over the years:

Though the powers under Article 142 are sweeping in nature, SC has defined its scope and extent through its judgments over time.

In the Prem Chand Garg case:

  1. The majority opinion demarcated the contours for the exercise of the Court’s powers under Article 142(1) by saying that an order to do complete justice between the parties “must not only be consistent with the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution, but it cannot even be inconsistent with the substantive provisions of the relevant statutory laws,” made by Parliament.
  2. The court thinks that it would not be possible to hold that Art. 142(1) confers upon this Court powers which can contravene the provisions of Article 32 (right to constitutional remedies).The seven-judge bench upheld the 1962 ruling in ‘Prem Chand Garg.’

In the Bhopal gas tragedy case (‘Union Carbide Corporation vs Union of India’), the SC in 1991 ordered UCC to pay $470 million in compensation for the victims of the tragedy.

  1. Under it, the Bench highlighted the wide scope of Article 142 (1), adding that it found it “necessary to set at rest certain misconceptions in the arguments touching the scope of the powers of this Court under Article 142(1) of the Constitution”.
  2. Deeming the power under Article 142 to be “at an entirely different level and of a different quality”, the court clarified that “prohibitions on limitations on provisions contained in ordinary laws cannot, ipso-facto, act as prohibitions or limitations on the constitutional powers under Article 142”.
  3. It also said that it would be “wholly incorrect” to say that powers under Article 142 are subject to express statutory prohibitions, the court reasoned that doing so would convey the idea that statutory provisions override a constitutional provision.

Criticism of Article 142:

  1. The sweeping nature of these powers has invited the criticism due to their arbitrary and ambiguous nature. It is because the Court has wide discretion, due to the absence of a standard definition for the term “complete justice”.
  2. In 1998, the apex court in ‘Supreme Court Bar Association vs Union of India’ held that the powers under Article 142 are supplementary in nature and could not be used to supplant or override a substantive law and “build a new edifice where none existed earlier”.
  3. The Court said that the powers conferred by Article 142 are curative and cannot be construed as powers “which authorise the court to ignore the substantive rights of a litigant while dealing with a cause pending before it”.
  4. Under Article 142, the judiciary cannot be held accountable for its actions, unlike the legislature and the executive.
  5. On grounds of the separation of powers doctrine, which says that the judiciary should not venture into areas of law-making and that it would invite the possibility of judicial overreach.

Way forward:

  1. The Drafting Committee of the Indian Constitution was mindful of the wide-reaching nature of the powers and reserved it only for exceptional situations, which the existing law would have failed to anticipate.
  2. The apex court has imposed checks on its own power under Article 142. In 2006, the SC ruling by a five-judge Bench in ‘State of Karnataka vs Uma Devi’ also clarified that “complete justice” under Article 142 means justice according to law and not sympathy, while holding that it will “not grant a relief which would amount to perpetuating an illegality encroaching into the legislative domain.”


IMF regional economic outlook Asia-Pacific report

GS Paper -3 (Economy)

According to the International Monetary Fund, growth in the dynamic Asia-Pacific region is projected to increase to 4.6% this year from the 3.8% recorded in 2022; the growth will be largely led by India and China.

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  1. In its “Regional Economic Outlook - Asia and Pacific” report, the IMF said the region would contribute around 70% of global growth.
  2. Asia and Pacific will be the most dynamic of the world’s major regions in 2023, predominantly driven by the buoyant outlook for China and India,” the two largest emerging market economies of the region are expected to contribute around half of global growth this year, with the rest of Asia and Pacific contributing an additional fifth.
  3. It said; Asia’s dynamism will be driven primarily by the recovery in China and resilient growth in India, while growth in the rest of Asia is expected to bottom out in 2023, in line with other regions.
  4. IMF cut next year’s Asian growth forecast by 0.2 of a point to 4.4%, and warned of risks to the outlook such as stickier-than-expected inflation, slowing global demand as well as the impact of U.S. and European banking-sector stress.
  5. It added that Asia has strong capital and liquidity buffers to fend off market shocks, the region’s highly leveraged corporate and household sectors are “significantly” more exposed to a sharp increase in borrowing costs.
  6. The IMF said; China will be a key driver of the region’s growth, the country’s property sector remains a risk that policy makers need to address to ensure an even recovery in the sector.
  7. China’s policymakers have been trying to stabilise the sector that accounts for a quarter of national GDP after a string of defaults among developers and a slump in home sales.
  8. The IMF said;  2023 looks to be a challenging year for the global economy, with global growth decelerating as the effects of monetary policy tightening (through consistent interest rate hikes) and Russia’s war in Ukraine continue to weigh on economic activity.
  9. Due to persistent inflationary pressures, recent financial sector problems in the U.S. and Europe, injecting additional uncertainty into an “already complex economic landscape”.
  10. Thecollapse of a few regional banks in the U.S., which started with Silicon Valley Bank, has sent ripples across the global banking industry and posed fears of a contagion effect across economies.
  11. Thegrowth in the Asia Pacific region is also getting a fresh impetus from China’s reopening of its economy after extended COVID-19 related restrictions. However, the IMF cautioned that this dynamic outlook does not imply that policymakers in the region can afford to be complacent.
  12. It said;monetary policy should remain tight until inflation falls durably back within target. The exceptions are China and Japan, where output is below potential and inflation expectations have stayed muted.


Families seeking work under MGNREGS slide

GS Paper-2 (Development)

The number of families availing the benefit of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) continues to fall post the Covid-19 pandemicwith 6.19 crore households availing of the rural job programmeduring the 2022-23 financial year compared to 7.25 crore in 2021-22 and 7.55 crore in 2020-21.

About NREGS:

  1. NREGS was launched in the 200 most-backward rural districts of the country in 2006-07 and was extended to an additional 130 districts during 2007-08; and to the entire country from 2008-09.
  2. It guarantees 100-day wage employment in a financial year to every rural household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work.

Findings of the report:

  1. The scheme saw a spike in demand for work during 2020-21, when a record 7.55-crore rural families, availed of its benefit in the wake of the Covid-19 outbreak.
  2. The scheme became a safety net for migrants who returned to their villages during the pandemic-induced lockdown in 2020. However, since 2020-21, the figure has been declining, 7.25 crore in 2021-22 to 6.19 crore in 2022-23.
  3. The data shows that the average days of employment provided per household too came down to 47.84 days during 2022-23 from 50.07 days in 2021-22.
  4. Only 36.01 lakh families completed 100-day wage employment under the NREGS during 2022-23, which is the lowest in the last five years—59.14 lakh in 2021-22, 71.97 lakh in 2020-21, 40.60 lakh in 2019-20 and 52.59 lakh in 2018-19.

Reasons for decline:

  1. The Economic Survey 2022-23, had attributed the year-on-year (YoY) decline in monthly demand for MGNREGS work to the “normalisation of the rural economy due to strong agricultural growth and a swift recovery from Covid-induced slowdown, culminating in better employment opportunities.
  2. Activists blame the introduction of mandatory attendance through the National Mobile Monitoring System App (NMMS), Aadhaar Based Payment System, and cut in the budget for the dip in the number of families availing of the NREGS.
  3. The Standing Committee on Rural Development & Panchayati Raj said that the Budget Estimates for MGNREGS has been reduced by Rs. 29,400 crore for 2023-24 when compared to Revised Estimates of 2022-23.

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