For cleaner, fairer elections (The Hindu)
The politics of AI (The Hindu)
The confusion over rural electrification in India (Live Mint)
For cleaner, fairer elections
Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue of party funding and campaign finance
(GS paper II)
- Supreme Court, over the last few decades, has readily stepped in to introduce electoral reforms; the SC’s recent decision on information disclosure in Lok Prahari v. Union of India case paves a way for future constitutional interventions in India’s party funding regime, including the scheme of electoral bonds.
Extension of the ADR
- In 2002, the Supreme Court, in a landmark decision in Association for Democratic Reforms v. Union of India (ADR), mandated the disclosure of information relating to criminal antecedents, educational qualification, and personal assets of a candidate contesting elections.
- Sixteen years later, the court has extended the disclosure obligation to further include information relating to sources of income of candidates and their “associates”, and government contracts where candidates or their associates have direct or indirect interests.
- The principled basis of the court’s decision is that voters’ right to know about their candidate is an extension of their freedom of expression; voters cannot be said to have freely expressed themselves (by voting) without having appropriate information about the candidates. They should have the opportunity of receiving relevant information “to make an appropriate choice of his representative in the Legislature”.
- What Lok Prahari does is that it extends the ADR decision to include information about the candidate’s “associates”; relevant information for voters is no more limited to the candidate’s personal information.
About party funding
- One piece of information that a voter is most deprived of in India; it is that about party funding. While the scheme of electoral bonds has received much attention, another significant facilitator of opacity is an obscure, yet significant provision of the Representation of the People Act, 1951: Section 29C(1)(a).
- The provision exempts political parties from disclosing the source of any contribution below ₹20,000. This gives political parties a convenient loophole to hide their funding sources by breaking contributions into smaller sums, even ₹19,999 each. As a result, a vast majority of donations to political parties come from sources unknown to voters. The new scheme of electoral bonds takes away even the facade of disclosure requirements that used to exist in earlier law.
- Upholding the constitutionality of disclosure requirements for funding sources in Buckley v. Valeo, the U.S. Supreme Court held, “The sources of a candidate’s financial support also alert the voter to the interests to which a candidate is most likely to be responsive.” Therefore, it is essential for voters to know the funding sources of their candidates.
- Parties in India play at least two crucial roles in the election of candidates, namely financial support to candidates, and, more importantly, setting the agenda. Not much needs to be said about direct and indirect ways in which parties financially support their candidates.
- There is another rationale for disclosure of party-funding sources. Parties occupy a special space in India when it comes to agenda setting. By virtue of a strong anti-defection law in India, all elected legislators are bound by their party agenda. If an elected legislator refuses to toe the party line, she can be disqualified.
- In Kihoto Hollohan vs. Zachillhu and Others, the Supreme Court, upholding the anti-defection amendment, noted: “A person who gets elected as a candidate set up by a political party is so elected on the basis of the programme of that political party.” Parties cannot lay claim to the representation of a candidate, and at the same time argue that information about party funding is not relevant for voters.
- As a matter of legal principle, the court’s recent judgment in Lok Prahari, read along with our constitutional structure, strikes a blow against the provisions discouraging transparency in party funding. If the court’s jurisprudence is consistently applied, the scheme of electoral bonds could be declared unconstitutional.
Question- The verdict on a petition from Lok Prahari, is one more in a long line of significant verdicts aimed at preserving the purity of the electoral process. Analyse the statement.
The politics of AI
Synoptic line: It throws light on the issue Artificial intelligence and data protection.
(GS paper III)
- Artificial intelligence has always figured in New Year technology predictions. However, the notable difference this time is the sheer domination of AI in every segment of consumer life and business. In the coming times we can expect the technology to get closer to our daily lives, to the extent of even blurring the human-machine boundaries.
- Machine learning (a more precise term for AI) will certainly continue to surpass human capabilities in specific domains such as medical diagnosis and facial recognition. But an AI that can match human intelligence in all respects is unlikely because it is impossible for AI technology to replicate that which makes human intelligence what it is, its embodiment in a biological substrate refined by millions of years of evolutionary feedback loops.
- International Data Corporation, the market intelligence agency, estimates that worldwide spending on AI solutions will grow to $57.6 billion by 2021. The lion’s share of the investments is being made by the Big Five: Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Microsoft.
- Given the scale of investment that it is attracting from the Big Five, all hailing from the most profitable sector of global capitalism (technology), it’s clear that AI is critical for future profitability.
Capitalism and globalisation
- AI is critical for future profitability and this is in keeping with the dynamic of late capitalism that began in the 1970s. Capitalism faced a crisis of profitability in the 1970s. Opinions differ regarding its causes, but the global elite had no doubts about the solution: financialisation and globalisation.
- The financialisation and globalisation diminishes share of wages in profits. So, prop up demand and keep the economy on the growth path, consumer spending was sustained through debt, which entailed further financialisation of the economy. During 1990s, that capitalism welcomed its newest saviour: digitalisation.
- If financialisation and globalisation made it possible for corporates to tap into markets anywhere in the world, digitalisation gave them the means to do so.
- Uber is the perfect example of what capitalism wants to be when financialisation, globalisation, and digitalisation come together. Huge volumes of financial capital bankrolled Uber through year after year of huge losses as it expanded across the globe, offering rides at prices that disrupted local transportation markets. But it owned no vehicles, employed no drivers. What it did own was data about customers and commute patterns, and a proprietary algorithm that put them to good use.
- AI heralds the next phase of digital capitalism where capital accumulation is powered by the ‘oil’ of the networked economy-data. To take an obvious example, traditionally the world’s leading content producers, newspapers and television channels, received the bulk of advertising revenue.
- Businesses structured as platforms are the digital equivalent of oil rigs, ideally placed to mine the networked economy’s most valuable resource by inserting themselves between different sets of users, turning every interaction into a data point, and feeding it all into an algorithm.
- From this perspective, India’s own data-mining initiative, the Aadhaar project, is an ambitious attempt to run a single pipeline through multiple oil rigs with the aim of securing free and unlimited access to an endless stream of personal data that could be monetised by whoever controls it.
Data ownership and labour protection
- There are two inter-related issues that citizens must consider carefully- Data Ownership and Labour Protection. For example platform-based, chargeable AI services being rolled out by the likes of Amazon and Google were not only made possible by user-generated data, but they often border on rent-seeking. So, there is no reason why people should continue to surrender ownership of their personal data without due compensation.
- AI is set to eliminate thousands of skilled jobs in the services sector from paralegals and sales executives to drivers and radiologists. Unlike what unfolded in the 20th century when the loss of blue-collar jobs to automation was offset by a boom in service sector employment, the rise of AI isn’t about to open up a great number of jobs in any new sector, which is why tech tycoons such as Elon Musk are advocating a universal basic income.
- AI cannot sever the link between labour and economic value, though it does substitute dead labour (capital) for living labour. A more equitable distribution of the profits derived from data is essential to ensure that the original owner-producers of data get their due share.
- The time has come to put in place a new data ownership regime so that private capital is made to pay if it wants to use people’s personal data for commercial gain.
Question – The AI-enabled digitalised economy cannot survive without the ‘oil’ that can only come from non-AI (human) sources. Explain.
The confusion over rural electrification in India
Synoptic line: It throws light on the data that shows some inconsistencies in the number of rural households in the country.
(GS paper II)
- Around seventy years after independence, India is still racing to connect thousands of villages with electricity as it looks to accelerate growth whose dividend is distributed to all. There had been question upon government’s record in rural electrification and allegation of frequent shifting of goalposts.
- However some instances show that the criticism seems a bit misplaced. While the government had electrified a much higher number of villages, not all households in those villages were electrified. Therefore, the focus in recent years has rightly shifted from simply electrification of villages to “intensive” electrification.
- A village is considered electrified if at least 10% of its households are electrified, among other conditions. Intensive electrification, on the other hand, refers to deepening the electricity infrastructure to provide access to the remaining un-electrified houses.
- Data from the Rural Electrification Corporation Ltd (REC), which is the nodal agency executing the Deen Dayal Upadhyaya Grameen Jyoti Yojana (DDUGJY), shows considerable progress in intensive electrification under the current government. The DDUGJY website shows that 99.8% of census villages have been electrified till date while “intensive electrification” has been completed in around 80% of villages.
- However, detailed official data on the number of households electrified throws up doubts about the quality of these statistics. The DDUGJY website currently provides state-wise data as of 31 December 2017, while the Pradhan Mantri Sahaj Bijli Har Ghar Yojana (Saubhagya) website provides daily updated numbers.
- The total number of rural households fluctuates because state electricity distribution companies (discoms) periodically update the numbers. “In consultation with state power utilities and keeping Census 2011 data as base, household electrification data has been captured in GARV web portal and the same is being updated periodically by the power utilities, when data is revalidated by the discoms the number of total households and electrified households keep varying and remain dynamic,” a person with direct knowledge of the matter said. GARV is the power ministry’s Grameen Vidyutikaran dashboard.
- Simply ensuring electricity connectivity is only half the work done. The DDUGJY website shows that only six states had 24-hour power supply in rural areas in December 2017, and responsibility also lies with states to ensure adequate power supply. While progress is being made on the rural electrification front, proper accountability and monitoring is critical if the government is to set a date for achieving universal electrification.
Question – In order to boost electricity consumption particularly in rural areas, the government had come with various measures. Critically analyse the Saubhagya scheme.