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Current Affairs 24 February 2024

  1. Demand for Reservations: Maratha Community
  2. Article 142
  3. 6th Regional Dialogue of Secretaries of Security Councils
  4. Rani Chennamma
  5. Cantor’s Giant Softshell Turtle
  6. Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve


Context:

The Maharashtra Assembly recently passed the Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Bill 2024, setting aside 10% reservation for the Maratha community in jobs and education under socially and educationally backward categories.

Relevance:

GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Maratha Reservation Bill: Key Highlights
  2. History and Status of the Maratha Reservation Demand
  3. Chronology of Maratha Reservation Demand
  4. 102nd Amendment Act of 2018
  5. Arguments in Favour and Against the Maratha Reservation Bill

Maratha Reservation Bill: Key Highlights

Legislative Background:

  • Maharashtra State Reservation for Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Bill 2024.
  • Drafted based on recommendations from the Maharashtra State Backward Class Commission.

Maratha Community Identification:

  • Marathas identified as socially and educationally backward through the commission’s report.
  • The Bill specifies Marathas as a Socially and Educationally Backward Class under Article 342A (3) of the Indian Constitution.

Constitutional Articles Invoked:

  • Reservation provided under Articles 15(4), 15(5), and 16(4) of the Constitution.
  • Article 342A (3): Empowers states to prepare lists of SEBCs different from the Central List.

Creamy Layer and Targeted Reservation:

  • Creamy layer principle applied to restrict reservation to non-creamy layer Marathas.
  • Targets the most marginalized within the Maratha community.

Exception to 50% Reservation Ceiling:

  • Commission cites “exceptional circumstances and extraordinary situations” justifying reservations above the 50% ceiling set by the Supreme Court (Indira Sawhney judgement, 1992).

Impact on Total Reservation in Maharashtra:

  • Current reservation stands at 52%, including various categories.
  • Addition of 10% reservation for Marathas raises the total reservation in Maharashtra to 62%.

History and Status of the Maratha Reservation Demand:

The demand for reservation by the Maratha community in the Indian state of Maharashtra has a history dating back several years. Here’s an overview of the history and status of the Maratha reservation demand:

  • Background of the Maratha Community: The Marathas are a socially and politically influential group in Maharashtra, constituting approximately 33% of the state’s population. Historically, they were known as a warrior caste with significant land holdings and political influence.
  • Social and Economic Backwardness: Over time, various factors such as land fragmentation, agrarian distress, unemployment, and limited access to education and employment opportunities have led to the social and economic backwardness of many Marathas. While they continue to play a crucial role in the rural economy, a significant section of the community has faced challenges in various aspects of life.
  • Demand for Reservation: In response to these challenges, the Maratha community has been demanding reservation in government jobs and educational institutions. They seek inclusion in the category of Socially and Educationally Backward Classes (SEBC) to avail the benefits of affirmative action policies.
  • Political Mobilization: The demand for Maratha reservation gained momentum through large-scale protests and demonstrations organized by various Maratha organizations and associations. These protests highlighted issues related to unemployment, underrepresentation, and socio-economic disparities within the community.

Chronology of Maratha Reservation Demand:

  • 2017: A commission chaired by Retired Justice N G Gaikwad recommended Maratha reservation under SEBC.
  • 2018: Maharashtra Assembly passed a bill proposing 16% reservation for Marathas.
  • 2018: Bombay High Court upheld the reservation but suggested reducing it to 12% in education and 13% in jobs.
  • 2020: Supreme Court stayed its implementation and referred the case to the Chief Justice of India for a larger bench.
2021:
  • Supreme Court struck down Maratha reservation in 2021, citing the 50% cap on total reservations set in 1992.
  • The Maratha reservation, at 12% and 13% (education and jobs), increased the overall reservation ceiling to 64% and 65%, respectively.
  • SC emphasized that the 50% rule could be relaxed only in exceptional and extraordinary situations.
  • The court found no such circumstances in Maharashtra to breach the limit.
  • The state had no authority to grant socially and economically backward status to a community; only the president can adjust the central list of backward classes.
  • The Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of the 102nd Constitution Amendment but differed on its impact on state power to identify SEBCs.
2022:
  • In November 2022, after the SC upheld the 10% quota for Economically Weaker Sections, the state government allowed economically weaker Maratha members to benefit from the EWS quota pending the resolution of the Maratha reservation issue.

102nd Amendment Act of 2018:

Introduction of New Articles:

  • The 102nd Amendment Act of 2018 introduced two new articles into the Constitution of India: Article 338B and Article 342A.

Article 338B:

  • Article 338B deals with the establishment of the National Commission for Backward Classes. This commission is responsible for addressing the concerns and rights of socially and educationally backward classes in the country.

Article 342A:

  • Article 342A empowers the President of India to specify the socially and educationally backward communities within a State.
  • It underscores that the inclusion of a community in the Central List for socially and backward classes and the subsequent grant of reservation benefits are matters within the purview of the Parliament.

Arguments in Favour and Against the Maratha Reservation Bill

Arguments in Favour:
  • Empirical Justification:
    • Shukre Commission’s empirical data supports the socio-economic challenges faced by the Maratha community, justifying the need for reservation to alleviate poverty and marginalization.
  • Economic Distress:
    • High farmer suicide rates among Marathas indicate severe economic distress, emphasizing the urgent requirement for targeted interventions through reservation.
  • Historical Exclusion:
    • Marathas historically excluded from mainstream opportunities. Reservation in jobs and education can enhance representation and participation, contributing to inclusive development.
Arguments Against:
  • Legal Scrutiny Concerns:
    • History of legal challenges and setbacks for previous Maratha reservation attempts raises doubts about the new Bill’s ability to withstand judicial scrutiny, especially regarding the 50% reservation ceiling.
  • Doubts on Viability:
    • Doubts persist about the viability of the new reservation, with concerns raised about potential legal issues and its impact on existing OBC reservations.
  • Controversial Inclusion Criteria:
    • Draft notification proposing recognition of “sage soyare” as Kunbi, eligible for OBC reservation, sparked controversy, raising questions about the inclusion criteria.
  • Community Dissatisfaction:
    • Some Maratha activists prefer inclusion within the OBC category, expressing dissatisfaction with separate reservation.
  • Limited Impact on Root Causes:
    • Reservation may address immediate concerns but may not effectively tackle the root causes of Maratha backwardness. A holistic approach is needed for sustainable development, including education and skill development.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

Recently, the Chandigarh mayoral election garnered attention as the Supreme Court of India invoked Article 142 of the Constitution to overturn the election results.

Relevance:

GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Extraordinary powers under Article 142
  2. Pros of Article 142
  3. Cons of Article 142
  4. Significant cases where Article 142 was invoked

Extraordinary powers under Article 142:

  • Article 142(1) states that “The Supreme Court in the exercise of its jurisdiction may pass such decree or make such order as is necessary for doing complete justice in any cause or matter pending before it, and any decree so passed or order so made shall be enforceable throughout the territory of India in such manner as may be prescribed by or under any law made by Parliament and, until provision in that behalf is so made, in such manner as the President may by order prescribe”.
  • From Article 142, the Supreme Court derives overarching powers to perform the functions of Executive and legislative in order to bring about complete justice.
  • In this pursuit, Article 142 is supplemented by the Articles 32 (Right to constitutional remedies), Article 141 (The law declared by the Supreme Court shall be binding on all courts within the territory of India) and Article 136 (Special Leave petition).
  • This is often termed as judicial activism. 
Pros of Article 142
  • For upholding citizens’ rights and implementing constitutional principles when the executive and legislature fails to do so.
  • Sets out a system of check and balance and controls to the other branches of the government.
  • For example:
    • In Vishakha v State of Rajasthan case, Supreme Court laid down the guidelines to protect a woman from sexual harassment at its workplace
    • Bandhua Mukti Morcha Case  Court gave its landmark judgment on bonded labour system of India
    • In Olga Tellis Case where Right to livelihood was declared part and parcel of the right to life.
Cons of Article 142:
  • Judiciary cant be held accountable for its decisions.
  • It creates slippery slope of Judicial overreach.
  • Repeated use of Art 142 can diminish the faith of the people in the integrity, quality, and efficiency of the government.

Significant cases where Article 142 was invoked:

Babri Masjid Case:

  • The article was used in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid land dispute case.
  • It was instrumental in the handover of the disputed land to a trust to be formed by the union government.

Bhopal Gas Tragedy:

  • The SC invoked its plenary powers in the Union Carbide vs Union Govt case.
  • It intervened to provide compensation to victims of the deadly Bhopal Gas Tragedy.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

Recently, the 6th Regional Dialogue of Secretaries of Security Councils/National Security Advisers (NSA) on Afghanistan was held in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

Relevance:

GS II: International Relations

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan
  2. Key Issues Impacting India-Afghanistan Relations
  3. India’s Relations with Afghanistan

Regional Security Dialogue on Afghanistan:

  • Series of high-level meetings involving National Security Advisers (NSA) or senior security officials.
  • Participants: Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, China, Russia, India, and Central Asian states.
  • Aims to discuss and coordinate regional approaches for stability in Afghanistan.
  • Follows the objective of UNSCR 2593, preventing Afghan territory from posing threats.
  • Highlights the critical need to combat terrorism within Afghanistan.
India’s Efforts for the People of Afghanistan:
  • Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) promotes education, admitting over 3,000 students, including 600 Afghan girls.
  • Establishment of a Humanitarian Air Corridor between Delhi and Kabul for essential travel and aid delivery.
  • Supply of humanitarian assistance: 50,000 MTs of wheat, 250 tons of medical aid, and 28 tons of earthquake relief aid.
  • Partnership with UNODC for the welfare of Afghan drug users, supplying hygiene kits, baby food, blankets, and medical aid.
  • Ongoing trade and commerce with Afghanistan, including through the Chabahar port.

Key Issues Impacting India-Afghanistan Relations:

Drug Trade Challenges:

  • Originating from Afghanistan’s golden crescent, the drug trade contributes significantly to regional instability and violence.
  • Poses substantial challenges for Afghanistan and neighboring countries, including India.

Strategic Setback:

  • India’s strategic interests and influence in the region faced setbacks following the Taliban’s capture of Kabul in 1996.

Obstacles Post-Taliban Takeover (2021):

  • The Taliban’s takeover in 2021 presented hurdles for India’s infrastructure projects like the Salma Dam and Parliament Building.
  • Investments in Afghanistan were impeded by security concerns, corruption, and various challenges.

Concerns Over Terrorism:

  • The bombing of a Sikh gurdwara in Kabul, claimed by ISIS-K, raised significant concerns for India.

Shift in Security Dynamics:

  • Until August 2021, India relied on a friendly government in Kabul and the security presence of the United States for its security.
  • The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan led to a careful reassessment of the security landscape by India.

India’s Relations with Afghanistan:

History:
  • India’s policy towards Afghanistan is deeply rooted in historical and civilizational ties that span centuries.
  • The Treaty of Friendship in 1950 marked the beginning of relatively good relations between India and Afghanistan.
  • As contiguous neighbors, India holds legitimate economic and security interests in Afghanistan.
Economic Relations:
  • India has invested over USD 3 billion in Afghanistan across nearly 500 projects, covering critical areas like power, water supply, road connectivity, healthcare, education, agriculture, and capacity building.
  • The Border Roads Organisation of the Indian Army constructed a major road in 2009, connecting Delaram to Zaranj in the remote Afghan province of Nimroz, offering an alternative route for duty-free movement of goods through the Chabahar port in Iran.
  • Tariff concessions under the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA) are extended to Afghan traders.
  • The Salma Dam, also known as the Afghan-India Friendship Dam (AIFD), is a hydroelectric and irrigation project funded by India in Herat Province.
Political Relations:
  • The India-Afghanistan relations were bolstered by the signing of the Strategic Partnership Agreement in October 2011.
  • The Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) outlines assistance for rebuilding Afghanistan’s infrastructure and institutions, education, and technical support.
  • India consistently supports Afghan democracy and advocates for a stable, peaceful, and prosperous Afghanistan.
Humanitarian Assistance:
  • Amid the global pandemic, India committed to delivering 75,000 MT of wheat to Afghanistan in 2020.
  • Supplies of tablets like Hydroxy-chloroquine, Paracetamol, and surgical gloves were provided to the Afghan government in 2020.
  • Food assistance, including 11 lakh tonnes of wheat distributed as grains and biscuits to around 1.5 million school children, aimed at addressing food security challenges.
  • In 2018, during times of drought, India distributed 2000 tonnes of pulses to Afghanistan to promote food security.
  • A Medical Diagnostic Centre in Kabul was established in 2015, offering advanced diagnostic facilities to Afghan children and generating goodwill for India.

-Source: Indian Express



Context:

Recently, several social groups across the country organized a national campaign Naanoo Rani Chennamma (I am Rani Chennamma too) to commemorate 200 years of Rani Chennamma’s rebellion against the British East India Company.

Relevance:

GS I: History

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Nanoo Chennamma Campaign
  2. About Rani Chennamma
  3. What was the doctrine of Lapse?

Nanoo Chennamma Campaign: Empowering Women and Advocating Equality

  • The Nanoo Chennamma Campaign aims to commemorate Rani Chennamma and release the ‘Kittur Declaration.’
  • The declaration focuses on the fighting spirit of Indian women, demanding equal rights and representation.
  • Political Significance:
  • The rally holds political significance, addressing the lack of respect for women by political parties.
  • Emphasizes that women demand equality and won’t support parties that don’t respect and ensure their comfortable living.
Declaration Contents:
  • The Kittur Declaration addresses the situation of women in India over the last decade.
  • It advocates for women’s rights, equality, and representation in the political landscape.

Mobilization Efforts:

  • Organizers plan to mobilize 3,000-5,000 women for the rally, involving about 60 progressive women groups.
  • The campaign extends beyond women’s rights, focusing on broader social and systemic issues in the country.
Legacy of Rani Chennamma:
  • The campaign invokes Rani Chennamma’s memory to inspire women to fight against oppression and safeguard democracy.
  • Highlights Chennamma’s bravery, quick thinking, and commitment to protecting her kingdom.
  • Educational and Poverty Eradication Focus:
  • The rally advocates for quality education and poverty eradication to empower women.
  • Prioritizes educational institutes and schemes over temples and smart cities for women’s upliftment.
Inspiration for Women Today:
  • Rani Chennamma’s courage to take a stance, even in prison, serves as inspiration for today’s women.
  • Commemorating historical moments like the Kittur revolt led by a woman encourages more women to fight for their rights and participate in public life.

Rani Chennamma: A Legacy of Resistance

Early Life and Reign:

  • Born in Kakati, Belagavi district, Karnataka, Rani Chennamma became the queen of Kitturu upon marrying Raja Mallasarja.
  • After Mallasarja’s death in 1816, Shivalingarudra Sarja, his eldest son, ascended the throne.

Doctrine of Lapse and Kittur Rebellion:

  • Following Shivalingarudra’s death in 1824, adoption of Shivalingappa as the successor was denied by the British under the ‘doctrine of lapse.’
  • The British official John Thackery initiated an attack on Kittur in October 1824, leading to the Kittur Rebellion.
  • In the first battle, the British forces suffered losses, and political agent St. John Thackeray was killed. Two officers were taken hostage.
  • Despite initial setbacks, the British army recaptured Kittur Fort, imprisoning Rani Chennamma and her family.

Imprisonment and Death:

  • Rani Chennamma and her family were incarcerated at the fort in Bailhongal, where she passed away in 1829.
  • Doctrine of Lapse Explanation:
  • The doctrine of Lapse allowed the British East India Company to annex princely states without a natural heir.
  • Kitturu fell under British control in 1824 through this doctrine, even before its formal articulation by Lord Dalhousie between 1848 and 1856.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

Recently, conservationists from the University of Portsmouth uncovered the nesting site of the “secretive” Cantor’s giant softshell turtle on the banks of the Chandragiri River in Kerala.

Relevance:

GS III: Environment and Ecology

Cantor’s Giant Softshell Turtle: A Profile

  • Also known as the Asian giant softshell turtle and the frog-faced softshell turtle.

Distinctive Traits:

  • Renowned for rarity and secretive behavior.
  • Spends the majority of its life buried in sand, with only eyes and mouth visible.
  • Surfaces twice daily for breath and employs a sit-and-wait strategy for prey capture.

Dietary Habits:

  • Primarily carnivores (piscivores) with a diet comprising fish, crustaceans, and mollusks.

Distribution:

  • Found in eastern and southern India, Bangladesh, Burma, Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, eastern and southern China.

Preferred Habitat:

  • Inhabits inland, slow-moving freshwater bodies like rivers, lakes, streams, and estuaries.

Conservation Status:

  • IUCN: Critically endangered.
  • CITES: Appendix II.
  • Wildlife Protection Act, 1972: Schedule I.

Threats:

  • Habitat destruction leading to disappearance from significant areas.
  • High local harvesting for meat poses a severe threat to the species.

-Source: The Hindu



Context:

Recently, Researchers have discovered a new plant species in the genus ‘Impatiens’ (Balsaminaceae) in Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve, Tirunelveli.

Relevance:

GS III: Environment and Ecology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Discovery of ‘Impatiens Karuppusamyi’ in Agasthyamalai Region
  2. Key Facts about Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve

Discovery of ‘Impatiens Karuppusamyi’ in Agasthyamalai Region

  • The recently discovered plant species is named ‘Impatiens Karuppusamyi’, paying tribute to S. Karuppusamy for his notable contributions to the taxonomy of South Indian angiosperms.
  • It exclusively inhabits the Agasthyamalai region within the southern Western Ghats.
  • Classified under the scapigerous group (stemless group), the plant graces the landscape during the monsoon season for a limited period.
Impatiens Genus Overview:
  • Genus Impatiens: Encompassing over 1,000 species of flowering plants, the genus is widespread across tropical Africa, Madagascar, India, Sri Lanka, and China.

Key Facts about Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve:

  • Location: Situated in the Southern Western Ghats, spanning the Tirunelveli and Kanyakumari districts of Tamil Nadu.
  • Composite Sanctuaries: The reserve comprises three main sanctuaries: Kalakkad Sanctuary, Mundanthurai Sanctuary, and a segment of Kanyakumari Sanctuary.
  • Agastya Malai Hill Range: Forming the core area of the sanctuary, this hill range is part of one of the world’s 18 biodiversity hotspots and is colloquially known as the “River Sanctuary” due to 14 rivers originating from the Tiger Reserve.
  • Vegetation Diversity: Ranging from dry thorn forest to dry deciduous, moist deciduous, and a patch of West Coast wet evergreen forests on the higher elevations.
  • Rich Fauna: Home to diverse wildlife, including the Lion-tailed Macaque, Nilgiri Tahr, Nilgiri Pipit, Grey Headed Bulbul, Blue Winged Parakeet, and more.

-Source: The Times of India


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