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Current Affairs 16 May 2024

Contents:

  1. SC condemns Uttarakhand Government’s failure to check Forest Fires
  2. External Affairs Minister responds to U.S. Govt remarks on Chabahar port
  3. SC says Mining within 1 km from of tiger reserves is in contempt of court order
  4. Union Government grants citizenship certificates under CAA, 2019 Act
  5. Sikkim’s Statehood Day  
  6. Foetus has the Right to Live

SC condemns Uttarakhand Government’s failure to check Forest Fires


Context:

Recently, the Supreme Court ordered the Uttarakhand Chief Secretary to appear before it to answer ,what it said, the state’s “lackadaisical” approach in checking forest fires.

  • The Court questioned the deputation of the forest department officials on election duty even though the Election Commission had granted exemption to the department.
  • The Court also expressed its displeasure at the Centre for not providing sufficient funds to the state to deal with the forest fires.

Relevance:

GS III: Environment

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About Forest Fires
  2. Advantages of forest fires
  3. Disadvantages of forest fires
  4. Forest Fire Vulnerability in India
  5. India’s Initiatives to Tackle Forest Fires
  6. Ways to mitigate the risk of forest fires

About Forest Fires

A forest fire is an uncontrolled fire that occurs in areas with a significant amount of combustible vegetation, such as forests, grasslands, or shrublands.

Causes of Forest Fires

Forest fires are caused by Natural causes as well as Man-made or anthropogenic causes.

  • Natural causes such as lightning which set trees on fire. High atmospheric temperatures and low humidity offer favourable circumstance for a fire to start.
  • Man-made causes like flame, cigarette, electric spark or any source of ignition will also cause forest fires.
  • Traditionally Indian forests have been affected by fires. The problem has been aggravated with rising human and cattle population and the increase in demand for grazing, shifting cultivation and Forest products by individuals and communities.
  • High temperature, wind speed and direction, level of moisture in soil and atmosphere and duration of dry spells can intensify the forest fires.

Advantages of forest fires:

  • Some species of trees and plants have adapted to thrive in the aftermath of fires. For example, some pine trees rely on fires to open their cones and release seeds.
  • Forest fires can help to clear out dead wood, brush, and other debris, reducing the risk of future fires.
  • Fires can help to promote new growth and biodiversity by creating openings in the forest canopy that allow sunlight to reach the forest floor, stimulating the growth of new vegetation.

Disadvantages of forest fires:

  • Forest fires can destroy habitats and negatively impact biodiversity by killing animals and plants that are unable to escape the flames.
  • Smoke from fires can cause respiratory problems and other health issues for humans and animals.
  • Forest fires can damage or destroy homes, buildings, and other infrastructure, and can pose a significant threat to human safety.
  • The release of large amounts of greenhouse gases during forest fires can contribute to climate change.

India’s Initiatives to Tackle Forest Fires

  • National Action Plan on Forest Fires (NAPFF) was launched in 2018 to minimise forest fires by informing, enabling and empowering forest fringe communities and incentivising them to work with the State Forest Departments.
  • The Forest Fire Prevention and Management Scheme (FPM) is the only centrally funded program specifically dedicated to assist the states in dealing with forest fires.

Forest Fire Vulnerability in India

  • Forest fire season in India is from November to June
  • Council of Energy, Environment and Water (CEEW) report notes a tenfold increase in forest fires over the past two decades in India
  • More than 62% of Indian states are prone to high-intensity forest fires according to CEEW report
  • Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand, Telangana, and Northeastern states are most prone to forest fires
  • Mizoram has the highest incidence of forest fires over the last two decades with 95% of its districts as forest fire hotspots
  • ISFR 2021 estimates over 36% of the country’s forest cover is prone to frequent forest fires, 6% is ‘very highly’ fire-prone, and almost 4% is ‘extremely’ prone
  • An FSI study found nearly 10.66% area under forests in India is ‘extremely’ to ‘very highly’ fire-prone.

Ways to mitigate the risk of forest fires:

  • Prevention: One of the most effective ways to mitigate forest fires is to prevent them from occurring in the first place. This can be done by creating fire breaks, clearing debris, and reducing the amount of flammable material in the forest.
  • Early Detection: Early detection of forest fires can help prevent them from spreading and causing more damage. This can be done by installing fire detection systems, using drones or satellite imagery, and training local communities to report fires quickly.
  • Fire Suppression: Fire suppression is a critical component of forest fire mitigation. This involves using firefighting equipment such as helicopters, water tanks, and fire retardants to put out fires.
  • Forest Management: Proper forest management practices can also help mitigate the risk of forest fires. This includes thinning out dense forests, creating fire-resistant vegetation, and reducing the amount of deadwood and other flammable materials in the forest.
  • Community Education: Educating local communities on the risks of forest fires and how to prevent them can also be effective in mitigating the risk of forest fires. This includes providing information on safe campfire practices, prohibiting the use of fireworks in fire-prone areas, and encouraging the use of fire-resistant building materials in areas at high risk of forest fires.

-Source; The Hindu, The Indian Express       


External Affairs Minister responds to U.S. Govt remarks on Chabahar port project


Context:

Recently, the External Affairs Minister said that India will work at explaining the benefits of the Chabahar port in Iran to U>S.

Relevance:

GS II: International Relations

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Details
  2. The Chabahar Port and its benefits for India
  3. What is INSTC?

Details:

  • The U.S Government recently indicated about the “potential risk” of sanctions to companies working on the India-Iran joint venture.
  • As a response to this remarks, the India’s External Affairs Minister said that India will “work at” explaining that the Chabahar port is in the region’s interest to the U.S. government and it should not take a “narrow view” of the project.
  • The minister also pointed out that the U.S. had in the past appreciated the importance of the Chabahar port project, which supported aid and trade with Afghanistan.
  • In 2018, the Trumph administration exempted from the sanctions for the Chabahar port project.
  • This was implemented by amending the U.S. law on Iranian sanctions to add a carve-out for projects that supported “reconstruction assistance or economic development for Afghanistan” provided they were in the “national interest of the United States”.

The Chabahar Port and its benefits for India

  • The Chabahar Port is Located on the Gulf of Oman and is the only oceanic port of the country.
  • With this, India can bypass Pakistan in transporting goods to Afghanistan.
  • It will also boost India’s access to Iran, the key gateway to the International North-South Transport Corridor that has sea, rail and road routes between India, Russia, Iran, Europe and Central Asia.
  • It also helps India counter Chinese presence in the Arabian Seawhich China is trying to ensure by helping Pakistan develop the Gwadar port. Gwadar port is less than 400 km from Chabahar by road and 100 km by sea.
  • With Chabahar port being developed and operated by India, Iran also becomes a military ally to India. Chabahar could be used in case China decides to flex its navy muscles by stationing ships in Gwadar port to reckon its upper hand in the Indian Ocean, Persian Gulf and Middle East.
  • Trade benefits: With Chabahar port becoming functional, there will be a significant boost in the import of iron ore, sugar and rice to India. The import cost of oil to India will also see a considerable decline. India has already increased its crude purchase from Iran since the West imposed ban on Iran was lifted.
  • From a diplomatic perspective, Chabahar port could be used as a point from where humanitarian operations could be coordinated.

What is INSTC?

  • India, Iran, and Russia initially agreed to the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC) project in 2000 in St. Petersburg; ten additional central Asian and west Asian nations have since joined as observers: Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkey, Ukraine, Belarus, Oman, Syria, and Bulgaria.
  • Although they are not signatories to the INSTC agreement, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, and Afghanistan are interested in using the transport corridor.
  • It aims to cut the cost of freight transportation between India and Russia by around 30% and to cut the transit time from 40 days by more than half. It proposes a 7,200 km multi-mode network comprising ship, rail, and road lines.
  • The route largely comprises transporting cargo from Russia, India, Iran, and Azerbaijan.
  • It would be provided as a viable and fairer alternative to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
  • Further, it will enhance regional connectivity.

Objective:

The objective of the corridor is to increase trade connectivity between major cities such as Mumbai, Moscow, Tehran, Baku, Astrakhan, etc.

-Source: The Hindu


SC says Mining within 1 km from of tiger reserves is in contempt of court order


Context:

The Supreme Court said that continuance of mining activities within a radius of one km from the boundaries of critical tiger reserves would be in contempt of court.

The Court’s verdict in April, 2023 directed that mining within a national park and wildlife sanctuary and within an area of one km from their boundary shall not be permissible.

Relevance:

GS III: Environment

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About Tiger
  2. Why Tiger conservation is essential?
  3. Threats
  4. National Tiger Conservation Authority(NTCA)
  5. Project Tiger
  6. Organizations or Forums involved in Tiger Conservation

About Tiger:

  • Tiger being a keystone species is the symbol of courage and strength in India. This charismatic species has earned its pride as a National animal of India. It features in the National emblem adopted by the Government of India in 1950. India is one of the important Tiger range countries and has more than 70% of the world’s wild tigers and is in a leadership position on the tiger front globally.
  • The largest Tiger Reserve in India is Nagarjunsagar-Srisailam Tiger Reserve (Andhra Pradesh, Telangana) and the smallest Tiger Reserve in India is Bor Tiger Reserve (Maharashtra). According to the Tiger Census Report, 2019, the Tiger population has substantially increased from 2,226 in 2014 to around 2,967 in 2019. Madhya Pradesh saw the highest number of tigers (526) followed by Karnataka (524) and Uttarakhand (442).

Why Tiger conservation is essential?

  • The tiger is not just a charismatic species or just another wild animal living in some faraway forest. It is a top predator/Umbrella species that is at the apex of the food chain and keeps the population of wild ungulates in check, thereby maintaining the balance between prey herbivores and the vegetation upon which they feed. They prevent over-grazing by limiting herbivore numbers and maintain ecological integrity.
  • Therefore, the presence of tigers in the forest is an indicator of the well-being of the ecosystem. The extinction of this top predator is an indication that its ecosystem is not sufficiently protected, and neither would it exist for long thereafter.
  • Another reason why we need to save the tiger is that our forests are water catchment areas. Most tiger habitats are watershed areas of rivers and streams and in turn, improve soil fertility. Thus conserving tigers help conserve freshwater resources, regulate droughts or heavy rains, and benefits the downstream communities.
  • Tigers attracting tourists, which provide income for local communities.
  • Also, there is a tremendous decline in the tiger population as compared to the past 100 years, and to prevent the deteriorating condition of tigers, it’s important to conserve them.

Threats:

Threats include habitat loss, poaching, and man-animal conflict.

  1. Habitat loss: There are more tiger reserves in India but their connectivity is less. These isolated population can hinder their survival in the long run.
  2. Tiger Poaching: This has seriously impacted the probability of survival of Tigers in India. Tigers are mainly poached for their bones and other body parts which are in great demand for traditional Chinese medicines.Tigers in the wild are killed illegally to fuel the demand for Tiger products such as Tiger skins and Tiger Bone Wine. Thus every part of tiger has a market value and there is a huge demand for tiger skins, parts & derivatives drive an increasingly sophisticated network of illegal wildlife trade across all tiger range countries. As a result, demand is driving wild tigers to the brink of extinction, with 97% of the world’s wild tiger population wiped out over the last century. It has become a pride to possess a tiger’s parts namely its skin, nail, bones, and so on.
  3. Man-animal conflict: Fragmentation of their habitats has increased tigers moving to nearby human habitations and this, in turn, has increased man-animal conflict.

National Tiger Conservation Authority(NTCA):

  • The NTCA was launched in 2005, is a statutory body under the Ministry of Environment, Forests, and Climate Change constituted following the recommendations of the Tiger Task Force. It was given statutory status by the 2006 amendment of the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 for strengthening tiger conservation, through advisories/normative guidelines
  • Composition: The authority consists of the Minister in charge of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (as Chairperson), the Minister of State in the Ministry of Environment and Forests (as Vice-Chairperson), three members of Parliament, Secretary, Ministry of Environment and Forests and other members.
  • Objectives: Objectives include 
  • Fostering accountability of Centre-State in management of Tiger Reserves
  • Addressing man-animal conflicts
  • Addressing livelihood interests of local people in areas surrounding Tiger Reserves
  • Provide information on protection measures including future conservation plan, estimation of population of tiger and its natural prey species, the status of habitats, disease surveillance, mortality survey, patrolling, approve, co-ordinate research and monitoring on tiger 
  • Ensure critical support including scientific, information technology, and legal support.
  • NTCA provides technical and financial support to Tiger Reserves.

Project Tiger:

  • The first-ever initiative for the conservation of tigers was the Project Tiger. The Project Tiger, launched in 1973, has grown to more than 50 reserves amounting to almost 2.2% of the country’s geographical area.
  • It is an ongoing Centrally Sponsored Scheme of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, providing funding support to tiger range States for in-situ conservation of tigers in designated tiger reserves, and has put the endangered tiger on an assured path of recovery by saving it from extinction, as revealed by the recent findings of the All India tiger estimation using the refined methodology.
  • The tiger reserves are constituted on a core/buffer strategy.
  • Due to concerted efforts under Project Tiger, at present India has the distinction of having the maximum number of tigers in the world at 2,967 (SE range 2,603 to 3,346) as per 2018 assessment, when compared to other tiger range countries. Tigers were observed to be increasing at a rate of 6% per annum in India when consistently sampled areas were compared from 2006 to 2018.

Organizations or Forums involved in Tiger Conservation:

  1. Global Tiger Forum(GTF): It is an Inter-Governmental international body working exclusively for the conservation of Tigers. Established in 1994, the Global Tiger Forum (GTF) has its headquarters in New Delhi set up to promote a worldwide campaign to save the tiger, its prey, and its habitat. 
  2. The Global Tiger Initiative(GTI):It was launched in 2008 as a global alliance of governments, international organizations, civil society, conservation, and scientific communities, and the private sector, to work together to save wild tigers from extinction. In 2013, the scope was broadened to include Snow Leopards.
  3. Wildlife Institute of India (WII): Wildlife Institute of India (WII) offers training programs, academic courses, and advisory in wildlife research and management. It was established in 1982 at Dehradun. It is an autonomous Institution of the Ministry of Environment & Forests.
  4. World Wildlife Fund(WWF): It works to conserve and connect tiger habitat, monitors tigers and their prey, and collaborates with governments across the 13 tiger range countries to protect wild tigers.

-Source; The Hindu


Union Government grants citizenship certificates under CAA, 2019 Act


Context:

Over 300 people were granted citizenship certificates by the Union Government for those who applied under the Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), 2019.

Relevance:

GS-II: Polity and Governance (Citizenship, Government Policies and Interventions, Issues arising out of the design and implementation of these policies)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019
  2. Criticisms of the CAA

The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), 2019:

The foundation of India’s citizenship laws can be traced back to the constitution, specifically Articles 5-11, and the Citizenship Act of 1955, which outlined provisions for citizenship acquisition through birth, descent, registration, and naturalization.

Eligibility:

The CAA amended the Citizenship Act of 1955 to grant eligibility for Indian citizenship to illegal migrants belonging to Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain, Parsi, and Christian communities from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan.

Definition of illegal migrants:

  • An illegal migrant is someone who enters India without valid travel documents or overstays beyond the permitted duration, potentially facing prosecution, deportation, or imprisonment.
  • Those belonging to the aforementioned communities who entered India on or before December 31, 2014, are not considered illegal immigrants, thus providing a pathway to naturalization.
  • However, the Muslim community is excluded from these provisions.

Relaxation:

  • The amendment reduced the residency requirement from 11 years to 6 years for these communities to become eligible for Indian citizenship through naturalization.
  • Members of these communities are exempted from prosecution under the Foreigners Act of 1946 and the Passport Act of 1920.
  • Applicants from these communities are not classified as “illegal immigrants.”

Exception:

The amendments concerning illegal migrants do not apply to specific tribal areas (under Sixth Schedule) in Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, and Tripura, as well as states regulated by the “Inner Line” permit under the Bengal Eastern Frontier Regulations 1873.

Criticisms of the CAA

  • It violates the basic tenets of the Constitution. Illegal immigrants are distinguished on the basis of religion.
  • It is perceived to be a demographic threat to indigenous communities.
  • It makes illegal migrants eligible for citizenship on the basis of religion. This may violate Article 14 of the Constitution which guarantees the right to equality.
  • It attempts to naturalise the citizenship of illegal immigrants in the region.
  • It allows cancellation of OCI registration for violation of any law. This is a wide ground that may cover a range of violations, including minor offences.

-Source:The Hindu


Sikkim’s Statehood Day


Context:

Recently, the President and Prime Minister of India greeted people on the occasion of Sikkim Statehood Day that is celebrated on May 16th.

Relevance:

GS 1: History

GS 2: Polity and Constitution

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Sikkim’s Statehood: History
  2. Creation of New States in Indian Constitution

Sikkim’s Statehood: History

  1. In the 1640s India, Pakistan Bangladesh and Nepal were still many princely states with many rulers at that time and had not unified.
    But by this time, Sikkim had already solidified into country then with a king known as a Chogyal or dharma king, and till 16 May 1975 was an independent country ruled by the monarchs.
  2. In the early 18th century, the British Empire sought to establish trade routes with Tibet, leading Sikkim to fall under British suzerainty until independence in 1947. The Treaty of Tumlong in 1861 made Sikkim a protectorate of the British.
  3. Initially, Sikkim remained an independent country, until it merged with India in 1975 after a decisive referendum.
  4. Indian independence and its move to democracy spurred a fledgling political movement in Sikkim, giving rise to the formation of Sikkim State Congress (SSC).
  5. After India’s independence in 1947, the guarantees of independence that Sikkim had acquired from the British were transferred to the new Indian government.
  6. In 1950, a treaty was agreed between India and Sikkim which gave Sikkim the status of an Indian protectorate.
  7. The then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru gave special protectorate status for Sikkim, which was to be a ‘tributary’ of India.
  8. Sikkim came under the suzerainty of India, which controlled its external affairs, defence, diplomacy and communications.
  9. In 1973, anti-royalist riots took place in front of the Chogyal’s palace.
  10. In 1975, the Prime Minister of Sikkim appealed to the Indian Parliament for Sikkim to become a state of India. In April 1975, the Indian Army took over the city of Gangtok and disarmed the Chogyal’s palace guards.
  11. Thereafter, a referendum was held for abolishing the monarchy, effectively approving union with India.
  12. On 16 May 1975, Sikkim became the 22nd state of the Indian Union, and the monarchy was abolished.
  13. To enable the incorporation of the new state, the Indian Parliament amended the Indian Constitution. First, the 35th Amendment laid down a set of conditions that made Sikkim an “Associate State”, a special designation not used by any other state.
  14. The 36th Amendment repealed the 35th Amendment, and made Sikkim a full state, adding its name to the First Schedule of the Constitution.

Creation of New States in Indian Constitution

The procedure for formation of new States laid down in Article 3 of the Constitution.

Article 3 assigns to Parliament the power to enact legislation for the formation of new States. Parliament may create new States in a number of ways, namely by:

  1. separating territory from any State
  2. uniting two or more States
  3. uniting parts of States
  4. uniting any territory to a part of any State

Parliament’s power under Article 3 extends to increasing or diminishing the area of any State and altering the boundaries or name of any State.

Note: A state has no say over the formation of new States beyond communicating its views to Parliament.

  1. A bill calling for formation of new States may be introduced in either House of Parliament only on the recommendation of the President.
  2. The bill must be referred by the President to the concerned State Legislature for expressing its views to Parliament if it contains provisions which affect the areas, boundaries or name of that State.

-Source; The Hindu, The Indian Express       


Foetus has the Right to Live


Context:

The Supreme Court recently rejected a prayer petition of a 20 year old single mother to allow abortion of a 27-week pregnancy.

  • The court held that the foetus too has a right to live.
  • The AIIMS expert committee also shows that there is no congenital abnormality in the foetus nor is there any danger to the mother to carry on with the pregnancy which will mandate termination of the foetus.
  • The foetus being viable and normal, and there is no danger to the petitioner to carry on with the pregnancy, the court held that foeticide would neither be ethical nor legally permissible.

Relevance:

GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971
  2. Medical Termination of Pregnancy Amendment Act, 2021
  3. Who falls in the category of women allowed to terminate pregnancy between 20-24 weeks?

The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act, 1971

  • The Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Act, 1971 provides the legal framework for making CAC services available in India.
  • Termination of pregnancy is permitted for a broad range of conditions up to 20 weeks of gestation as detailed below:
    • When continuation of pregnancy is a risk to the life of a pregnant woman or could cause grave injury to her physical or mental health;
    • When there is substantial risk that the child, if born, would be seriously handicapped due to physical or mental abnormalities;
    • When pregnancy is caused due to rape (presumed to cause grave injury to the mental health of the woman);
    • When pregnancy is caused due to failure of contraceptives used by a married woman or her husband (presumed to constitute grave injury to mental health of the woman).

The MTP Act specifies

  • who can terminate a pregnancy;
  • till when a pregnancy can be terminated; and
  • where can a pregnancy be terminated.

Medical Termination of Pregnancy Amendment Act, 2021

  • The Medical Termination of Pregnancy Act allows termination of pregnancy by a medical practitioner in two stages.
  • After a crucial amendment in 2021, for pregnancies up to 20 weeks, termination is allowed under the opinion of one registered medical practitioner.
  • For pregnancies between 20-24 weeks, the Rules attached to the law prescribe certain criteria in terms of who can avail termination. It also requires the opinion of two registered medical practitioners in this case.
  • For pregnancies within 20 weeks, termination can be allowed if:
    • the continuance of the pregnancy would involve a risk to the life of the pregnant woman or of grave injury to her physical or mental health; or
    • there is a substantial risk that if the child was born, it would suffer from any serious physical or mental abnormality.
  • The explanation to the provision states that termination within 20 weeks is allowed “where any pregnancy occurs as a result of failure of any device or method used by any woman or her partner for the purpose of limiting the number of children or preventing pregnancy, the anguish caused by such pregnancy may be presumed to constitute a grave injury to the mental health of the pregnant woman”.
    • The phrase “any woman or her partner” was also introduced in 2021 in place of the earlier “married woman or her husband”. By eliminating the word “married woman or her husband” from the scheme of the MTP Act, the legislature intended to clarify the scope of Section 3 and bring pregnancies which occur outside the institution of marriage within the protective umbrella of the law.
  • For both stages — within 20 weeks and between 20-24 weeks — termination is allowed “where any pregnancy is alleged by the pregnant woman to have been caused by rape, the anguish caused by the pregnancy shall be presumed to constitute a grave injury to the mental health of the pregnant woman”.

Who falls in the category of women allowed to terminate pregnancy between 20-24 weeks?

  • For pregnancies between 20-24 weeks, Section 3B of the Rules under the MTP Act lists seven categories of women:
    • Survivors of sexual assault or rape or incest;
    • Minors;
    • Change of marital status during the ongoing pregnancy (widowhood and divorce);
    • Women with physical disabilities (major disability as per criteria laid down under the Rights of Persons with Disabilities Act, 2016);
    • Mentally ill women including mental retardation;
    • The foetal malformation that has substantial risk of being incompatible with life or if the child is born it may suffer from such physical or mental abnormalities to be seriously handicapped;
    • Women with pregnancy in humanitarian settings or disaster or emergency situations as may be declared by the Government.

-Source; The Hindu, The Indian Express       

 


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