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Current Affairs 12 December 2023

  1. Supreme Court’s Article 370 verdict
  2. Italy Withdraws from China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)
  3. Zonal Councils
  4. Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  5. PM Vishwakarma Scheme
  6. Pradhan Mantri Janjati Adivasi Nyaya Maha Abhiyan
  7. Pinna Nobilis


Context:

The Supreme Court in a 5-0 unanimous ruling upheld the Centre’s abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution.

Relevance:

GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Examining Jammu and Kashmir’s Sovereignty: Court Verdict
  2. Assessing the Permanence of Article 370: Court’s Position
  3. Legality of Article 370 Abrogation: Examining the Legal Process
  4. President’s Rule and Executive Actions: Legal Scrutiny

Examining Jammu and Kashmir’s Sovereignty: Court Verdict

The court assessed the argument that Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) retained an element of sovereignty distinct from other princely states during its integration into the Indian Union in 1947.

Constitutional Set-up Analysis:

  • Article 1 of the Indian Constitution designates India as a Union of States, with J&K listed as a Part III state in the First Schedule.
  • Section 3 of the J&K Constitution explicitly declares J&K as an integral part of India, with a prohibition on amendments to this provision.

Continuous Exercise of Power under Article 370:

  • The court emphasized that the ongoing exercise of power under Article 370(1) by the President indicated a gradual constitutional integration process.
  • The President’s declaration under Article 370(3) marked the culmination of this integration process.

Effect of Yuvraj Karan Singh’s Proclamation:

  • The court rejected the argument that a merger agreement was necessary for J&K to surrender sovereignty, citing Yuvraj Karan Singh’s Proclamation adopting the Indian Constitution in 1949.
  • The Proclamation superseded and abrogated inconsistent constitutional provisions, achieving the same outcome as an agreement of merger.

Justice S K Kaul’s Perspective:

  • Justice Kaul, in his concurring opinion, acknowledged J&K’s internal sovereignty despite the Instrument of Accession.
  • Article 370’s recognition of the Constituent Assembly of the State reflected this internal sovereignty, but this viewpoint did not impact the final conclusions.

Assessing the Permanence of Article 370: Court’s Position

Various arguments were presented to the Court regarding the permanence or transience of Article 370, a provision integral to Jammu and Kashmir’s constitutional status.

Petitioners’ Assertion:

  • Petitioners contended that Article 370, forming part of the Constitution’s basic structure, had acquired permanence and couldn’t be abrogated.

Kapil Sibal’s Argument:

  • Senior advocate Kapil Sibal argued that since 370(3) required the Constituent Assembly’s recommendation (no longer in existence), abrogation became impractical.

Court’s Perspective:

  • Both the Chief Justice (CJI) and Justice Kaul concurred that Article 370 was inherently temporary.
  • Justice Kaul reasoned that its temporary nature persisted even after the State Constituent Assembly dissolution.

Temporary Nature Indicators:

  • CJI highlighted two aspects showcasing Article 370’s temporariness:
    • It served as an interim measure until the State Constituent Assembly formation, unnecessary post J&K Constitution’s adoption.
    • Enacted due to the state’s wartime circumstances, it addressed specific, transient needs.

Legality of Article 370 Abrogation: Examining the Legal Process

The abrogation of Article 370 followed a legal process involving constitutional amendments and presidential orders. The legality was dissected, with differing perspectives from Justice Kaul and Chief Justice (CJI) Chandrachud.

Amendment to Article 367:

  • On August 5, 2019, President Ram Nath Kovind issued CO 272 amending Article 367, introducing a new interpretation for “Constituent Assembly of Jammu and Kashmir” as the “legislative assembly of Jammu and Kashmir.”

Parliament’s Consent via CO 273:

  • CO 273 sought Parliament’s consent (acting as the J&K legislature) to recommend the cessation of all clauses of Article 370.

Justice Kaul’s View:

  • Justice Kaul upheld this process, endorsing the constitutional amendments and parliamentary consent.

CJI Chandrachud’s Opinion:

  • CJI Chandrachud, while acknowledging the abrogation’s validity, deemed the alteration of the Constituent Assembly’s meaning unnecessary.
  • He asserted that after the Constituent Assembly’s dissolution, the President could unilaterally abrogate Article 370.

Continued Power under Article 370(3):

  • The ruling clarified that the power under Article 370(3) persisted post the Constituent Assembly’s dissolution.
  • While the transitional power ceased, the President’s authority under Article 370(3) remained intact.

President’s Rule and Executive Actions: Legal Scrutiny

The legal challenge revolved around the actions taken during President’s rule in Jammu and Kashmir, with petitioners contending that irrevocable steps were taken without the state’s consent. The examination of the extent of powers under Article 356 was crucial.

Petitioner’s Argument:

  • The petitioners asserted that irrevocable actions were executed without the state’s consent during President’s rule, raising questions about the permissible exercise of powers under Article 356.

Bommai Ruling Reference:

  • Both Chief Justice (CJI) and Justice Kaul referred to the 1994 S R Bommai v Union of India ruling, a binding precedent by a nine-judge Bench.
  • The Bommai ruling outlined parameters for the proclamation of President’s rule.

Validity Standard:

  • The court emphasized that the President’s action must meet the standard of not being “mala fide or palpably irrational.”
  • It required consideration of whether the advisability and necessity of the action were duly considered by the President.

Burden of Proof:

  • The ruling stated that both the petitioner and the Union government must demonstrate mala fides to the court.
  • The argument that irrevocable actions inherently imply mala fides was rejected.

-Source: Indian Express



Context:

Italy has officially pulled out of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), marking a significant shift more than four years after being the sole G7 nation to join. The decision reflects a complex evaluation of economic, geopolitical, and strategic considerations prompting Italy to reconsider its participation in the BRI.

Relevance:

GS II: International Relations

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Reasons Behind Italy’s Exit from BRI
  2. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)
  3. India’s Stance on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)
  4. Issues Concerning the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)

Reasons Behind Italy’s Exit from BRI

Disappointing Economic Outcomes:

  • Italy, seeking investment and infrastructure development, joined BRI in 2019 amid economic challenges.
  • However, expected economic benefits did not materialize, with Chinese FDI dropping significantly from USD 650 million in 2019 to USD 33 million in 2021.

Trade Imbalance and Limited Gains:

  • Italy’s trade statistics with China did not see substantial improvements since joining BRI.
  • Italian exports to China increased modestly, while Chinese exports to Italy expanded significantly, raising concerns over trade imbalances.

Global Geopolitical Shifts:

  • Italy’s reconsideration aligns with a broader trend in Europe, reflecting concerns over China’s growing influence and geopolitical alignments.
  • Events like the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the collapse of the EU-China Comprehensive Agreement on Investment have prompted nations to reassess ties with China.

Alignment with Western Allies:

  • Italy may be inclined to strengthen ties with its Western allies, especially in the G7, as it approaches the G7 presidency.
  • Exiting BRI could be seen as a gesture of solidarity with Western partners.

Global Criticisms of BRI:

  • Worldwide criticism of BRI’s potential debt traps and lack of financial transparency has influenced Italy’s decision.
  • Reports of other countries facing substantial debt burdens due to BRI participation contribute to Italy’s withdrawal.

The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)

  • The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is a comprehensive development strategy launched in 2013 with the goal of enhancing global connectivity and cooperation.
  • Initially named ‘One Belt, One Road,’ it was later rebranded as the BRI to emphasize inclusivity and openness rather than Chinese dominance.
Components of BRI:
  • The BRI consists of two primary components:
    • Silk Road Economic Belt: This focuses on improving overland transportation routes, infrastructure, and trade links across Eurasia.
    • Maritime Silk Road: Emphasizes maritime connections, including ports, shipping routes, and maritime infrastructure projects, extending from the South China Sea through Indo-China, Southeast Asia, the Indian Ocean, and reaching Africa and Europe.
Objective:
  • The primary objective of the BRI is to enhance international connectivity by improving infrastructure, trade, and economic cooperation.
  • It encompasses a wide range of projects, including the development of railways, ports, highways, and energy infrastructure.
Geographic Corridors:
  • The land-based Silk Road Economic Belt includes six key development corridors:
    • China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC)
    • New Eurasian Land Bridge Economic Corridor
    • China-Indochina Peninsula Economic Corridor
    • China-Mongolia-Russia Economic Corridor
    • China-Central Asia-West Asia Economic Corridor
    • China-Myanmar Economic Corridor
Economic Impact:
  • Participation in the BRI has led to increased trade and investments with China for the involved countries.
  • Trade with BRI partners experienced an annual growth rate of 6.4%, reaching USD 19.1 trillion between 2013 and 2022.

India’s Stance on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)

Opposition Based on Sovereignty and Transparency:

  • India opposes the BRI project primarily due to concerns related to sovereignty and transparency.
  • India chose to boycott BRI summits organized by China in 2017 and 2019 and refrained from endorsing BRI joint statements issued by the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

Objection to CPEC and PoK:

  • India’s primary objection to the BRI is the inclusion of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), which traverses through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), a territory claimed by India.
  • India asserts that PoK is an integral part of its territory.

Call for International Norms and Financial Sustainability:

  • India emphasizes the need for BRI projects to adhere to international norms, uphold the rule of law, and ensure financial sustainability.
  • India is concerned about the potential creation of debt traps, as well as environmental and social risks for the countries hosting BRI projects.

Promotion of Alternative Initiatives:

  • Instead of participating in the BRI, India has been actively promoting alternative connectivity initiatives.
  • One such initiative is the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment (PGII), a G7 effort aimed at funding infrastructure projects in developing nations.

Issues Concerning the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)

Debt Sustainability and Transparency:

  • One of the primary issues associated with the BRI is the debt sustainability and transparency of its projects, especially in countries with weak governance, high corruption, and low credit ratings.
  • Accusations of “debt-trap diplomacy” have arisen, with critics suggesting that countries like Sri Lanka and Zambia, unable to repay BRI-related loans, have faced pressure to surrender strategic assets or make political concessions.

Decentralized and Bilateral Nature:

  • The BRI consists of primarily bilateral projects rather than a centralized, multilateral initiative. This decentralized approach can lead to coordination and governance challenges.
  • Unlike initiatives like the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB), the BRI lacks a centralized governing structure, making collective issue resolution challenging.

Geopolitical Rivalries and Disputes:

  • Geopolitical rivalries and disputes, such as the India-China border dispute, have had repercussions on the implementation of BRI projects in certain regions.
  • Political tensions can undermine the progress of the initiative, affecting project timelines and outcomes.

Environmental and Social Impacts:

  • BRI infrastructure development projects have faced criticism regarding their potential environmental and social impacts.
  • The challenge is to ensure that BRI projects prioritize environmental sustainability and consider the well-being of local communities.

Geopolitical Concerns and Influence:

  • The BRI has raised geopolitical concerns, especially regarding China’s growing influence and control over critical infrastructure in partner countries.
  • These concerns have led some countries to reevaluate their participation in the initiative and seek to balance their interests.

-Source: Indian Express



Context:

The Union Home Minister and Minister of Cooperation chaired the 26th meeting of the Eastern Zonal Council in Patna, Bihar.

Relevance:

GS II- Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. 26th Eastern Zonal Council Meeting: Key Highlights
  1. What are Zonal Councils?
  2. Composition
  3. Objectives of the zonal councils

26th Eastern Zonal Council Meeting: Key Highlights

Increased Frequency of Zonal Council Meetings:

  • Over the last 9 years, from June 2014 to the present, a total of 56 meetings, averaging 6.2 meetings per year, were conducted despite challenges, including the Covid-19 pandemic.

Resolution of Issues:

  • The Zonal Council meetings, along with their Standing Committees, have successfully resolved 1157 issues, demonstrating their effectiveness in addressing regional challenges.

National Importance Agenda:

  • Zonal Council meetings have addressed various issues of national significance, reflecting a comprehensive agenda.
  • Key topics include initiatives like Poshan Abhiyan to combat child malnutrition, strategies for reducing school dropout rates, operationalization of Fast Track Special Courts for prompt handling of rape cases, ensuring the presence of Banks/India Post Payment Bank branches within 5 km of each village, and the establishment of two lakh new Primary Agricultural Credit Societies (PACSs) with a focus on strengthening existing ones.

What are Zonal Councils?

  • Zonal Councils are advisory councils and are made up of the states of India that have been grouped into five zones to foster cooperation among them. These were set up vide Part-III of the States Reorganization Act, 1956.
  • The Zonal Councils are the statutory (and not the constitutional) bodies.
    • They are established by an Act of the Parliament, that is, States Reorganization Act of 1956.
  • The act divided the country into five zones (Northern, Central, Eastern, Western and Southern) and provided a zonal council for each zone.
  • The Union Home Minister is the common chairman of the five Zonal Councils.
  • Each chief minister acts as a vice-chairman of the council by rotation, holding office for a period of one year at a time.
  • While forming these zones, several factors have been taken into account which include  the natural divisions of the country, the river systems and means of communication, the cultural and linguistic affinity and the requirements of economic development, security and law and order.
  • In addition to the above Zonal Councils, a North-Eastern Council was created by a separate Act of Parliament i.e. the North-Eastern Council Act of 1971.
  • These are advisory bodies that will discuss and make recommendations with regard to any matter of common interest in the field of economic and social planning between the Centre and States.
Each zonal council consists of the following members
  • Home minister of Central government.
  • Chief ministers of all the States in the zone.
  • Two other ministers from each state in the zone.
  • Administrator of each union territory in the zone.

Composition:

  • The Northern Zonal Council: It comprises the States of Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan, National Capital Territory of Delhi and Union Territory of Chandigarh,
  • The Central Zonal Council: It comprises the States of Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh,
  • The Eastern Zonal Council: It comprises the States of Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, Sikkim and West Bengal,
  • The Western Zonal Council: It comprises the States of Goa, Gujarat, Maharashtra and the Union Territories of Daman & Diu and Dadra & Nagar Haveli,
  • The Southern Zonal Council: It comprises the States of Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and the Union Territory of Puducherry.

Objectives of the zonal councils:

  • To achieve an emotional integration of the country.
  • To help in arresting the growth of acute state-consciousness, regionalism, linguism and particularistic trends.
  • To help in removing the after-effects of separation in some cases so that the process of re- organisation, integration and economic advancement may synchronise.
  • To enable the Centre and states to cooperate with each other in social and economic matters and exchange ideas and experience in order to evolve uniform policies.
  • To cooperate with each other in the successful and speedy execution of major development projects.
  • To secure some kind of political equilibrium between different regions of the country.

-Source: Indian Express



Context:

December 10, 2023 marked the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

Relevance:

GS II: International Relations

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR): Overview
  2. Achievements of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)
  3. Current Situation

Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR): Overview

Background:
  • Approved by the UN General Assembly on December 10, 1948, in Paris, the UDHR was a response to the atrocities of World War II.
  • It laid the groundwork for the post-war international order, aiming to establish a common understanding of basic rights and freedoms.
Document Structure:
  • The relatively concise declaration comprises a preamble and 30 articles, covering a spectrum of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights.
  • Despite being non-binding, it has been a crucial source of inspiration for the development of international human rights law.
Universal Applicability:
  • The rights and freedoms outlined are considered universal, applying to all individuals, irrespective of nationality, ethnicity, gender, religion, or any other status.
Key Features:
  • Preamble: Emphasizes the inherent dignity and equal, inalienable rights of all members of the human family.
  • Articles: The 30 articles cover diverse rights, including life, liberty, security of person, freedom of religion, expression, assembly, work, education, and an adequate standard of living.
  • Promotes equality before the law and the right to seek asylum from persecution in other countries.

Achievements of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR):

  • Global Inspiration: Recognized for inspiring over 70 human rights treaties globally and regionally.
  • Impact on Movements: Served as a catalyst for the decolonization and anti-apartheid movements.
  • Freedom Movements: Inspired freedom fighters worldwide, addressing gender, LGBTIQ+ issues, and fighting against racism.

Current Situation:

  • Challenges: Faces challenges amid conflicts like Israel-Hamas, Russia’s war in Ukraine, and internal conflicts in places like Myanmar and Sudan.
  • Misuse and Abuse: UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres acknowledges the UDHR’s misuse and abuse for political gain.
  • Relevance and Recognition: Despite challenges, Amnesty International asserts that the UDHR remains relevant, showcasing a global vision for human rights. The world should acknowledge its successes and learn from its failures.

-Source: Indian Express



Context:

The PM Vishwakarma Scheme, launched by the Centre, has received over 21 lakh applications in two and a half months, data from the Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE) show.

Relevance:

GS II: Government policies and Inerventions

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. PM Vishwakarma Scheme
  2. Benefits Offered by PM Vishwakarma Scheme
  3. Rationale Behind PM Vishwakarma Scheme

PM Vishwakarma Scheme

  • Background: PM Vishwakarma Scheme was initially announced by Prime Minister Modi in his Independence Day address.
  • Targeted Beneficiaries: The scheme is aimed at reaching economically marginalized and socially backward communities, particularly the Other Backward Classes (OBC) groups.
Key Details
  • Financial Allocation: The scheme has a total outlay of Rs 13,000 crore and is entirely funded by the Central government.
  • Objective: PM Vishwakarma Scheme intends to provide subsidized loans, with a cap of Rs 2 lakh, to traditional artisans and craftsmen. This includes various professions like weavers, goldsmiths, blacksmiths, laundry workers, and barbers.
  • Enhancing Product Quality: A key goal is to enhance the quality and market reach of products and services offered by artisans and craftsmen.
  • Integration in Value Chains: The scheme aims to integrate Vishwakarmas (artisans) into both domestic and global value chains.
  • Nodal Ministry: The Ministry of Micro, Small & Medium Enterprise (MSME) serves as the nodal ministry for the implementation of this scheme.
  • Support from Tribal Affairs: The Ministry of Tribal Affairs will actively support the scheme’s execution to ensure the well-being of Vishwakarmas.
Eligibility and Coverage
  • Beneficiary Scope: PM Vishwakarma Scheme caters to both rural and urban artisans and craftsmen across India.
  • Detailed Beneficiary List: A comprehensive list has been formulated to define the specific beneficiaries under the scheme. This list encompasses 18 traditional crafts, including Boat Makers, Armourers, Blacksmiths, Hammer and Tool Kit Makers, among others.
  • Coverage: In the inaugural year, the scheme aims to benefit five lakh families, with the goal of extending its impact to 30 lakh families over the course of five years.

Benefits Offered by PM Vishwakarma Scheme

Registration and Recognition

  • Artisans will be registered for free using the biometric-based PM Vishwakarma portal, facilitated by Common Services Centres (CSC).
  • Recognition will be granted through the issuance of a PM Vishwakarma certificate and ID card.

Skill Upgradation

  • Beneficiaries will receive skill upgradation through both basic and advanced training.

Toolkit Incentive

  • Artisans will be provided with a toolkit incentive amounting to ₹15,000.

Collateral-Free Credit Support

  • Financial support in the form of collateral-free credit will be offered.
  • The first tranche of credit support will be up to ₹1 lakh, and the second tranche will go up to ₹2 lakh.
  • Interest rates on these loans will be concessional, set at 5%.

Incentives for Digital Transactions and Marketing

  • Additional incentives will be given for conducting digital transactions and marketing support to promote the artisans’ products.

Toolkit Booklet and Training

  • A toolkit booklet has been created in 12 Indian languages, accompanied by video materials.
  • This educational resource will enhance artisans’ knowledge of new technologies in their respective fields.
  • The skilling program includes both basic and advanced training phases.
  • Participants will receive a stipend of ₹500 per day while undergoing training.

Rationale Behind PM Vishwakarma Scheme

Addressing Historical Challenges

  • Traditional artisans, who have been practicing their crafts for generations, often lack formal professional training, access to modern tools, proximity to relevant markets, and the necessary capital for investment.

Overcoming Training and Resource Gaps

  • The scheme aims to bridge these gaps by offering structured training, providing essential toolkits, and offering financial support to empower artisans to enhance their skills, access markets, and improve their livelihoods.

-Source: Indian Express



Context:

Recently, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs has brought to light the ambitious Pradhan Mantri-Janjati Adivasi Nyaya Maha Abhiyan (PM-JANMAN) Scheme. Aimed at uplifting Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs), this initiative carries the potential to address their unique challenges and provide essential infrastructure for a brighter future.

Relevance:

GS II: Government policies and Interventions

Pradhan Mantri Janjati Adivasi Nyaya Maha Abhiyan (PM JANMAN): Empowering Tribal Communities

Comprehensive Scheme:

  • PM JANMAN, comprising Central Sector and Centrally Sponsored Schemes, is a holistic initiative targeting 11 critical interventions through nine ministries, with a particular focus on the Ministry of Tribal Affairs.

Key Interventions:

  • Aims to address 11 critical interventions, including permanent housing, road connectivity, piped water supply, mobile medical units, hostel construction, ‘Anganwadi’ facilities, and skill development centers.
Additional Ministries’ Involvement:
  • Beyond the 11 critical interventions, other ministries contribute to the mission’s success.
    • Ministry of Ayush:
      • Establishes Ayush Wellness Centres based on existing norms.
      • Extends Ayush facilities to Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG) habitations through Mobile Medical Units.
    • Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship:
      • Facilitates skill and vocational training in PVTG habitations, multipurpose centers, and hostels, aligning with the specific skills of these communities.

-Source: Indian Express



Context:

Recently, marine biologists said that a huge clam that was on the verge of extinction has made a comeback, with a surge in numbers in waters off Croatia.

Relevance:

GS III: Species in News

About Pinna nobilis:

  • Species Description: Pinna nobilis is a large Mediterranean clam, belonging to the family Pinnidae, known for its sizable shells that can grow up to 1.2 meters across.
  • Ecological Role: These clams contribute significantly to the ecosystem by filtering seawater, promoting the flourishing of other marine organisms.
  • Attachment Mechanism: They attach themselves to rocks using a robust byssus, composed of silk-like threads historically used for making cloth.
  • Byssus Composition: The byssus fibers, secreted by the clam, consist of keratin and other proteins, reaching lengths of up to 6 cm. The inner shell exhibits a brilliant mother-of-pearl lining.
  • Symbiotic Relationship: Pinna nobilis hosts symbiotic shrimp within its shell, believed to provide a mutualistic relationship. The shrimp may act as a warning system for potential threats.
  • Distribution: Endemic to the Mediterranean Sea, this species faces threats from pollution and shell damage due to its relatively fragile nature.
  • Pathogen Impact: The noble pen shell experienced a decline, particularly around 2016, attributed to a lethal pathogen affecting parts of the Mediterranean.
  • Conservation Status: Designated as “Critically Endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), highlighting the urgent need for conservation efforts.

-Source: The Hindu


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