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Current Affairs 21 December 2023

  1. Allahabad HC Dismisses Petitions on Varanasi Mosque
  2. Global Coal Market Outlook: A Structural Shift by 2026
  3. Mullaperiyar Dam Dispute
  4. ASA Bans Airlines’ ‘Greenwashing’ Ads
  5. Lumpy Skin Disease
  6. Late Blight Disease


Context:

The Allahabad High Court has dismissed five petitions related to the Varanasi Mosque, asserting that the 1991 suit is not barred under the Places of Worship Act. The case will be transferred to the Varanasi Civil Judge’s court, with directions for expeditious proceedings, expected to conclude within six months.

Relevance:

GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is the Places of Worship Act?
  2. Context of the Recent Allahabad HC Ruling
  3. Claims in the 1991 Petition
  4. Allahabad HC Order Highlights

What is the Places of Worship Act?

The long title describes it as “An Act to prohibit conversion of any place of worship and to provide for the maintenance of the religious character of any place of worship as it existed on the 15th day of August, 1947, and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.”

What are its provisions?

  • Section 3 of the Act bars the conversion, in full or part, of a place of worship of any religious denomination into a place of worship of a different religious denomination — or even a different segment of the same religious denomination.
  • Section 4(1) declares that the religious character of a place of worship “shall continue to be the same as it existed” on August 15, 1947.
  • Section 4(2) says any suit or legal proceeding with respect to the conversion of the religious character of any place of worship existing on August 15, 1947, pending before any court, shall abate — and no fresh suit or legal proceedings shall be instituted.
    • The proviso to this subsection saves suits, appeals and legal proceedings that are pending on the date of commencement of the Act, if they pertain to the conversion of the religious character of a place of worship after the cut-off date.
  • Section 5 stipulates that the Act shall not apply to the Ramjanmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case, and to any suit, appeal or proceeding relating to it.
When was this law passed?
  • The Act was brought by the Congress government of Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao at a time when the Ram temple movement was at its peak.
  • The Babri Masjid was still standing, but L K Advani’s rath yatra, his arrest in Bihar, and the firing on kar sevaks in Uttar Pradesh had raised communal tensions.
Issues with the law
  • The law has been challenged on the ground that it bars judicial review, which is a basic feature of the Constitution.
  • It imposes an “arbitrary irrational retrospective cutoff date”, and abridges the right to religion of Hindus, Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs.

Context of the Recent Allahabad HC Ruling

  • Petitions by Gyanvapi Mosque Committee and UP Sunni Central Waqf Board:
    • The Allahabad HC issued the recent order based on five petitions submitted by the Gyanvapi mosque committee and the UP Sunni Central Waqf Board.
  • Challenge to the Suit Filed in 1991:
    • The petitions contended that the original suit, known as “Ancient Idol of Swayambhu Lord Vishweshwar vs. Anjuman Intezamia Masajid,” filed in 1991 was not maintainable. They argued that it was barred by the Places of Worship (Special Provisions) Act 1991.
  • SC’s 2018 Ruling on Interim Orders:
    • In 2018, the Supreme Court decided that interim orders of stay issued by courts other than the SC would automatically expire after six months unless officially extended.
  • Reasoning behind the SC Decision:
    • The intention was to prevent undue delays in criminal and civil trials caused by indefinite stays. This move aimed to ensure timely resolution of legal matters.
  • Current Scrutiny of the 2018 Judgment:
    • There is ongoing examination of the 2018 judgment by a larger five-judge Bench due to concerns about instances of miscarriage of justice resulting from automatic dismissal of stays.
  • Hindu Side’s Argument Based on 2018 Verdict:
    • Relying on the 2018 ruling, the Hindu side asserted that the stay was not in effect, warranting a reopening of the case. This contention was brought before the Allahabad HC.
  • Muslim Side’s Challenge before the HC:
    • The Muslim side contested the Hindu argument before the Allahabad HC, presenting a challenge to the interpretation of the 2018 judgment.

Claims in the 1991 Petition:

Property Ownership and Usage:

  • The 1991 suit asserts that the structure (mosque) on the cellars and the adjacent part of the old temple of Lord Vishweshwar are the property of Lord Visheshwar and devotees.
  • It claims that the Muslim community has illegally occupied the property and Hindus have the right to use it for worship, renovation, and reconstruction.

Requested Court Orders:

  • The suit sought a court order declaring the property as belonging to Lord Vishweshwar and devotees.
  • It requested an order directing the defendants (Waqf Board and Anjuman Intezamia Masajid Committee) to remove their effects from the said property.
Counterclaims:

Right to Offer Prayer:

  • The counterclaims state that petitioners have the right to offer prayers in the temple and have not been prevented from performing religious rites.

Purpose of Places of Worship Act 1991:

  • The Act aims to avoid controversies concerning places of worship, maintaining the religious character of such places as of August 15, 1947.

Religious Character of Gyanvapi Mosque:

  • Due to continuous use for Namaz by Muslims since August 15, 1947, the religious character of the Gyanvapi Mosque remains unchanged.

Allahabad HC Order Highlights:

  • Court Direction on Hearing:
    • The Varanasi court is directed to conclude the hearing on the original suit within six months.
  • Avoidance of Unnecessary Adjournments:
    • The court below is instructed not to grant unnecessary adjournments to either party, with heavy costs for granted adjournments.
  • Religious Character of Gyanvapi Compound:
    • The court states that the Gyanvapi Compound must have either a Hindu or a Muslim religious character but cannot have dual character simultaneously.
  • Limitations of Places of Worship Act 1991:
    • The Act does not define or provide a procedure for determining the religious character of a place of worship as of August 15, 1947.
  • Role of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI):
    • ASI is conducting a scientific survey, and the court directs submission of the report. Further surveys may be conducted based on the court’s directions.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

The International Energy Agency (IEA) projects a substantial decline in global coal demand by 2026, attributing this shift to the expansion of renewable energy and increased nuclear generation in key regions.

Relevance:

GS III: Energy

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Key Highlights of the Coal Market Report
  2. International Energy Agency (IEA)

Key Highlights of the Coal Market Report

Global Coal Demand Trends:
  • Record-high global coal demand in 2022, rising by 4% to 8.42 billion tonnes (Bt).
  • Asia, led by China, India, and Indonesia, remains the primary driver of demand growth.
  • Notable demand declines in the United States, with Europe showing restrained growth.
Anticipated Decline in Coal Demand:
  • Expected decline in most advanced economies’ coal demand in 2023.
  • Global coal consumption projected to be 2.3% lower in 2026 than in 2023.
  • China, India, and Indonesia expected to break coal output records in 2023.
Factors Influencing Decline:
  • Shift towards renewable energy contributing to the decline in coal demand.
  • Changes in global climate affecting hydropower output.
  • Significant growth in low-cost solar photovoltaic deployment.
  • Moderate increases in nuclear generation in China, India, and the European Union.
Regional Outlook:
  • China’s coal consumption expected to fall in 2024, with increased reliance on renewables.
  • Uncertainty in China’s economic growth and coal use due to structural changes.
  • India, Indonesia, and emerging economies likely to continue relying on coal for economic growth.
Climate Targets and Coal Use:
  • Efforts to reduce unabated coal use crucial for meeting international climate targets.
  • Goal of nearly 95% reduction in coal emissions between 2020-2050, aligning with COP28 commitments.
Coal Prices and Industry Dynamics:
  • Unexpected surge in coal prices impacting consumers and industry.
  • Mining companies maintaining strong profit margins despite rising costs.
  • Diversified mining firms strategically reinvesting coal profits in anticipation of energy transition demand.

International Energy Agency (IEA)

Formation and Headquarters:
  • Established in 1974 as an autonomous agency by OECD member countries.
  • Headquarters located in Paris, France.
  • Responded to the mid-1970s oil crisis.
Main Focus:
  • Primarily focuses on energy policies, addressing economic development, energy security, and environmental protection.
Role in the Oil Market:
  • Plays a crucial role in providing information on the international oil market.
  • Takes action against physical disruptions in the supply of oil.
Membership:
  • 31 member countries and 13 association countries, including India.
  • Candidate countries must be OECD member countries.
Major Reports:
  • World Energy Outlook.
  • World Energy Investment Report.
  • India Energy Outlook Report.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

Tamil Nadu cancelled the decision to open the spillway shutters of Mullaperiyar dam recently after a lull in rainfall and a reduced inflow of water to the dam.

Relevance:

GS-II: Polity and Constitution (Interstate water disputes), GS-I: Geography (Water Sources), GS-III: Disaster management

Dimensions of the Article:
  1. About Mullaperiyar Dam
  2. About the Dispute regarding Mullaperiyar river
  3. Background on Dams in India
  4. Ageing dams in India: Highlights of the UN Report
  5. Issues with Ageing Dams in India
  6. Way Forward

About Mullaperiyar Dam

  • The Mullaperiyar Dam is a masonry gravity dam on the Periyar River in Kerala – built at the confluence of Mullayar and Periyar rivers.
  • It is located on the Cardamom Hills of the Western Ghats and it was constructed between 1887 and 1895 (by John Pennycuick).
  • The Periyar National Park in Thekkady is located around the dam’s reservoir.
  • The catchment area of the Mullaperiyar Dam itself lies entirely in Kerala and it is argued that it is not an inter-State river, however, by the principle of estoppel (new argument cannot be against previous action/agreemet/statement) it is considered otherwise.

About the Dispute regarding Mullaperiyar river

  • The dam is located in Kerala on the river Periyar, but is operated and maintained by the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu.
  • For Tamil Nadu, the Mullaperiyar dam acts as a lifeline for Theni, Madurai, Sivaganga, Dindigul and Ramnad districts, providing water for irrigation and drinking, and also for the generation of power in Lower Periyaru Power Station.
  • While Kerala has pointed out the unfairness in the 1886 lease agreement and has challenged its validity, Tamil Nadu has insisted on exercising the unfettered colonial rights to control the dam and its waters, based on the 1886 lease agreement.
  • There is also the issue of concerns regarding the ageing Mullaperiyar dam (including alleged leaks and cracks in the structure) have been repeatedly raised by the Kerala Government while the Tamil Nadu governments have sought to downplay these concerns.
  • While Tamil Nadu has sought to increase the limit of maximum water level in the dam to 152 ft, Kerala has strongly argued against such a move citing safety concerns.
  • Kerala’s proposal for decommissioning the dam and constructing a new one has been challenged by Tamil Nadu.
Rule of Curve issue
  • A rule curve or rule level specifies the storage or empty space to be maintained in a reservoir during different times of the year.
  • It decides the fluctuating storage levels in a reservoir.
  • The gate opening schedule of a dam is based on the rule curve. It is part of the “core safety” mechanism in a dam.
  • The TN government often blames Kerala for delaying the finalization of the rule curve.

Background on Dams in India

  • India has 4,407 large dams, the third highest number in the world after China (23,841) and the USA (9,263).
  • India is ranked third in the world in terms of building large dams.
  • Tehri Dam in Uttarakhand is the highest dam in India built on Bhagirathi River.
  • Hirakud Dam in Odisha built on river Mahanadi is the longest dam of India.
  • Kallanai Dam in Tamil Nadu is the oldest dam of India. It is built on the Kaveri River and is about 2000 years old.

Ageing dams in India: Highlights of the UN Report

  • India is ranked third in the world in terms of building large dams.
  • Over a thousand large dams in India will be roughly 50-years-old in 2025 and such aging structures pose a growing threat.
  • There are also more than four thousand large dams in the country that will be over 50-years-old in 2050 and 64 large dams will be more than 150-years-old in 2050.
  • Ageing signs include increasing cases of dam failures, progressively increasing costs of dam repair and maintenance, increasing reservoir sedimentation, and loss of a dam’s functionality and effectiveness, “strongly interconnected” manifestations
  • Krishna Raja Sagar dam was built in 1931 and is now 90 years old.
  • Mettur dam was constructed in 1934 and is now 87 years old.
  • The report said that approximately 3.5 million people are at risk if India’s Mullaperiyar dam in Kerala, built over 100 years ago, “were to fail”.

Issues with Ageing Dams in India

  • As dams age, soil replaces the water in the reservoirs. Therefore, the storage capacity cannot be claimed to be the same as it was in the 1900s and 1950s.
  • Studies show that the design of many of India’s reservoirs is flawed in the sense that the designs underestimate the rate of siltation and overestimate live storage capacity created.
  • When soil replaces the water in reservoirs, supply gets choked. The cropped area begins receiving less and less water as time progresses.
  • The net sown water area either shrinks in size or depends on rains or groundwater, which is overexploited.
  • The designed flood cushions within several reservoirs across many river basins may have already depleted substantially due to which floods have become more frequent downstream of dams.

Way Forward

  • Assuring the safety of the downstream population should be the topmost priority in this scenario. The remaining works to strengthen the Mullaperiyar dam are to be done at the earliest.
  • There is a need to assure Kerala that all the instruments for monitoring the safety and health of the dam are installed and are functioning properly.
  • As there are sufficient scientific and technological tools to respond effectively to any legitimate and genuine concern, every stakeholder should adopt a rational approach while deciding on the storage levels and safety aspects of the dam.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

The UK’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned advertisements from Air France, Lufthansa, and Etihad, accusing them of misleading consumers with false claims of flight sustainability and downplaying the environmental impact of air travel.

Relevance:

GS III: Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What Is Greenwashing?
  2. Effects of greenwashing

What Is Greenwashing?

  • Greenwashing is the process of conveying a false impression or misleading information about how a company’s products are environmentally sound.
  • Greenwashing involves making an unsubstantiated claim to deceive consumers into believing that a company’s products are environmentally friendly or have a greater positive environmental impact than is true.
  • In addition, greenwashing may occur when a company attempts to emphasize sustainable aspects of a product to overshadow the company’s involvement in environmentally damaging practices.
  • Performed through the use of environmental imagery, misleading labels, and hiding tradeoffs, greenwashing is a play on the term “whitewashing,” which means using false information to intentionally hide wrongdoing, error, or an unpleasant situation in an attempt to make it seem less bad than it is.
Examples of Greenwashing
  • A classic example of greenwashing is when Volkswagen admitted to cheating emissions tests by fitting various vehicles with a “defect” device, with software that could detect when it was undergoing an emissions test and altering the performance to reduce the emissions level.
  • A plastic package containing a new shower curtain is labeled “recyclable.” It is not clear whether the package or the shower curtain is recyclable. In either case, the label is deceptive if any part of the package or its contents, other than minor components, cannot be recycled.
  • A trash bag is labeled “recyclable.” Trash bags are not ordinarily separated from other trash at the landfill or incinerator, so they are highly unlikely to be used again for any purpose. The claim is deceptive because it asserts an environmental benefit where no meaningful benefit exists.

Effects of greenwashing

  • There is a growing body of evidence that shows consumer sentiment is slanted toward being green and environmentally sustainable.
    • When a company, product or service is caught or discovered to be greenwashing, there is a general sense of distrust that occurs. Consumers will no longer trust the brand or product in question, and might also begin to question other claims.
  • Companies engaged in greenwashing – consumers will likely choose other organizations that are more ethical.
    • Greenwashing can degrade customer satisfaction, erode brand loyalty and potentially affect repeat purchases.
  • On Planet – Ultimately, the biggest effect of greenwashing is existential.
    • Each act that an organization or individual doesn’t take with real green initiatives has a potential negative effect on the planet.
    • With the effects of climate change continuing to manifest on humanity, there is no time to waste in taking steps to help improve sustainability such that humanity and Earth itself will continue to survive.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

A Parliamentary Standing Committee has raised concerns about the accuracy of information regarding cattle deaths due to Lumpy Skin Disease (LSD).

Relevance:

GS II: Health

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is the lumpy skin disease?
  2. How does it spread?
  3. Symptoms
  4. What is the geographical distribution and how did it spread to India?
  5. What are the economic implications?

What is the lumpy skin disease?

  • Lumpy skin disease is caused by the lumpy skin disease virus (LSDV), which belongs to the genus capripoxvirus, a part of the poxviridae family (smallpox and monkeypox viruses are also a part of the same family).
  • The LSDV shares antigenic similarities with the sheeppox virus (SPPV) and the goatpox virus (GTPV) or is similar in the immune response to those viruses.
  • It is not a zoonotic virus, meaning the disease cannot spread to humans.

How does it spread?

  • It is a contagious vector-borne disease spread by vectors like mosquitoes, some biting flies, and ticks and usually affects host animals like cows and water buffaloes.
  • According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), infected animals shed the virus through oral and nasal secretions which may contaminate common feeding and water troughs.
    • Thus, the disease can either spread through direct contact with the vectors or through contaminated fodder and water. Studies have also shown that it can spread through animal semen during artificial insemination.

Symptoms:

  • LSD affects the lymph nodes of the infected animal, causing the nodes to enlarge and appear like lumps on the skin, which is where it derives its name from.
  • The cutaneous nodules, 2–5 cm in diameter, appear on the infected cattle’s head, neck, limbs, udder, genitalia, and perineum.
  • The nodules may later turn into ulcers and eventually develop scabs over the skin.
  • The other symptoms include high fever, sharp drop in milk yield, discharge from the eyes and nose, salivation, loss of appetite, depression, damaged hides, emaciation (thinness or weakness) of animals, infertility and abortions.
  • The incubation period or the time between infection and symptoms is about 28 days according to the FAO, and 4 to 14 days according to some other estimates.
  • The morbidity of the disease varies between two to 45% and mortality or rate of date is less than 10%, however, the reported mortality of the current outbreak in India is up to 15%, particularly in cases being reported in the western part (Rajasthan) of the country.

What is the geographical distribution and how did it spread to India?

  • The disease was first observed in Zambia in 1929, subsequently spreading to most African countries extensively, followed by West Asia, Southeastern Europe, and Central Asia, and more recently spreading to South Asia and China in 2019.
  • As per the FAO, the LSD disease is currently endemic in several countries across Africa, parts of the West Asia (Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Syrian Arab Republic), and Turkey.
  • The spread in South Asia first affected Bangladesh in July 2019 and then reached India in August that year, with initial cases being detected in Odisha and West Bengal.
Is it safe to consume the milk of affected cattle?
  • Studies say that it has not been possible to ascertain the presence of viable and infectious LSDV virus in milk derived from the infected animal.
    • However, that a large portion of the milk in Asia is processed after collection and is either pasteurised or boiled or dried in order to make milk powder.
    • This process ensures that the virus is inactivated or destroyed.

What are the economic implications?

  • The spread of the disease can lead to “substantial” and “severe” economic losses.
  • The disease leads to reduced milk production as the animal becomes weak and also loses appetite due to mouth ulceration.
  • The income losses can also be due to poor growth, reduced draught power capacity and reproductive problems associated with abortions, infertility and lack of semen for artificial insemination.
  • Movement and trade bans after infection also put an economic strain on the whole value chain.
  • A risk assessment study conducted by the FAO based on information available from 2019 to October 2020 revealed that the economic impact of LSD for South, East and Southeast Asian countries “was estimated to be up to $1.45 billion in direct losses of livestock and production”.

India’s Scenario:

  • The current outbreak in India has emerged as a challenge for the dairy sector.
  • India is the world’s largest milk producer at about 210 million tonnes annually.
  • India also has the largest headcount of cattle and buffalo worldwide.
  • In Rajasthan, which is witnessing the worst impact of LSD , it has led to reduced milk production, which lessened by about three to six lakh litres a day.
  • Reports indicate that milk production has also gone down in Punjab owing to the spread of the disease.
  • According to FAO, the disease threatens the livelihoods of smaller poultry farmers significantly.
  • Notably, farmers in Uttar Pradesh and Punjab have incurred losses due to cattle deaths and are seeking compensation from their State governments.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

Recently, experts from Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) had cautioned farmers against the late blight disease attack on potato crop.

Relevance:

GS III: Agriculture

Late Blight Disease: Understanding the Fungal Menace

  • Late Blight disease is instigated by the fungus Phytophthora infestans.
  • It stands as the most critical threat to potato crops, with the potential for rapid crop failure without timely control measures.

Prevalence:

  • Flourishes in humid regions with specific temperature conditions.

Symptoms:

  • Initial signs manifest as small, light to dark green, circular water-soaked spots.
  • During cool and moist weather, these spots rapidly enlarge into large, dark brown or black lesions, often with a greasy appearance.
  • Lesions are accompanied by a pale green to yellow border.

Spread Mechanisms:

  • Infected tubers and soil act as sources of primary infection.
  • Diseased tubers play a crucial role in the persistence of the disease across cropping seasons.
  • Airborne infection is facilitated by sporangia.

Control Measures:

  • Prompt elimination of infected crop residue is essential to prevent disease spread.
  • Destruction of infected tubers and soil is vital for managing the disease’s impact.

-Source: Indian Express


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