ISSUE: NINTH SCHEDULE
WHY IN NEWS?
What is the Ninth Schedule of the Constitution?
The Ninth Schedule contains a list of central and state laws which cannot be challenged in courts. Currently, 284 such laws are shielded from judicial review.
The Schedule became a part of the Constitution in 1951, when the document was amended for the first time. It was created by the new Article 31B, which along with 31A was brought in by the government to protect laws related to agrarian reform and for abolishing the Zamindari system. While A. 31A extends protection to ‘classes’ of laws, A. 31B shields specific laws or enactments.
The First Amendment added 13 laws to the Schedule. Subsequent amendments in 1955, 1964, 1971, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1984, 1990, 1994, and 1999 have taken the number of protected laws to 284.
Article 31B also has retrospective operation: meaning if laws are inserted in the Ninth Schedule after they are declared unconstitutional, they are considered to have been in the Schedule since their commencement, and thus valid.
Although Article 31B excludes judicial review, the apex court has said in the past that even laws under the Ninth Schedule would be open to scrutiny if they violated fundamental rights or the basic structure of the Constitution.
While most of the laws protected under the Schedule concern agriculture/land issues, the list includes other subjects, such as reservation. A Tamil Nadu law that provides 69 per cent reservation in the state is part of the Schedule.
In a lake in Brazil, researchers have discovered a virus that they find unusual and intriguing. Called Yaravirus, it has a “puzzling origin and phylogeny”, they report in a study on the pre-print server bioRxiv. The Yaravirus infects amoeba and has genes that have not been described before, something that could challenge how DNA viruses are classified.
The researchers found the Yaravirus while looking in the lake for giant viruses that infect amoeba. Because of the Yaravirus’s small size, it was unlike other viruses that infect amoeba and they named it as a tribute to Yara, the “mother of waters” in the mythological stories of the Tupi-Guarani indigenous tribes.
Over 90% of the Yaravirus’s genome has not been observed before, the researchers have reported, after using standard protocols for genetic analysis and being unable to find any “classical viral genes”. In other viruses that affect amoeba, the researchers say that there are some similarities in their characteristics that are missing in the Yaravirus. “The amount of unknown proteins composing the Yaravirus particles reflects the variability existing in the viral world and how much potential of new viral genomes are still to be discovered,” they have written.
The virus does not infect human cells, according to the researchers.
The research paper has been written by multiple authors including virologists from Brazil and France. Although it is only now that the virus has been identified, the researchers believe that it has been present on Earth for ages.
ISSUE: HOW SHOULD FINANCE COMMISSION DISTRIBUTE THE RESOURCES?
The terms of reference of the 15th Finance Commission have been a source of immense controversy. Southern states have in particular argued that using the 2011 Census data puts them at a disadvantage as they have fared better on family planning.
The Commission has sought to assuage their concerns in its interim report by decreasing the population weight from 17.5 per cent to 15 per cent, and providing a counter-balance by assigning a weight of 12.5 per cent for their demographic performance. However, the interim report has left some uncomfortable issues unanswered, which will need to be resolved in its final report.
AREAS OF CONCERN
First, under the current arrangement, states were supposed to be compensated for any shortfall in their GST collections for a five-year period. While there is little clarity over the Centre’s obligation to compensate states if collections from the compensation cess fall short of what is needed to compensate states for their shortfall in revenue, the five-year compensation period ends in 2022. With GST collections falling short of expectations, states have demanded that the compensation period be extended. However, there is no clear indication either on its continuation after 2022, or whether it will be distributed to states, and if so to what extent.
Second, in its interim report, the Commission has proposed performance-based incentives for states in six areas, some of which such as agriculture and power distribution fall on the state list. While this is not a new proposal — the 13th Finance Commission had provided states incentives for reducing infant mortality — how will this be funded? Will the Commission, while keeping overall transfers to states at the existing level, reduce tax devolution to states, thereby creating fiscal space for providing these incentives?
Third, the creation of a separate mechanism for funding defence and internal security, if carved out of gross tax revenues, will further reduce the divisible tax pool that is shared with states.
A cash-strapped Centre will undoubtedly welcome any proposal that provides it with greater fiscal space. But state finances are equally under pressure. As a constitutional body, the Finance Commission should impartially assess the fiscal position and expenditure requirements of both the Centre and states while finalising its report.