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Current Affairs for UPSC IAS Exam – 23 April 2021 | Legacy IAS Academy

Contents

  1. ‘Country of Particular Concern’ – Religious Freedom
  2. COVID-19 impacts 82% of small businesses: Survey
  3. Global Youth Mobilization Local Solutions
  4. Australia ends Chinese deals on national interest

‘Country of Particular Concern’ – Religious Freedom

Context:

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recommended for the second year in the row to put India on a list (‘Countries of Particular Concern’ or CPCs) for the worst violations of religious freedoms in 2020.

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (Effect of Policies & Politics of Countries on India’s Interests, Important International Institutions and Reports), GS-II: Social Justice

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the International Religious Freedom report
  2. About the USCIRF
  3. About the previous 2020 report
  4. Latest Recommendations of USCIRF
  5. Concerns regarding India raised in the 2021 report
  6. Recommendations of the UCIRF in the 2021 report

About the International Religious Freedom report

  • The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) releases International Religious Freedom report annually.
  • The Report consists of country-wise chapters.
  • This report includes policy recommendations to the U.S. government based on the report’s evaluation of the facts and circumstances of religious freedom violations worldwide.

The Report’s primary focus is on two groups of countries:

  1. “Country of Particular Concern (CPC)” is a designation by the US Secretary of State of a nation engaged in severe violations of religious freedom under IRFA (International Religious Freedom Act of 1998).
  2. A “Special Watch List” country is one that is deemed not to meet all of the CPC criteria but engages in or tolerates severe violations of religious freedom.

About the USCIRF

  • The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) is a U.S. federal government commission created by the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998.
  • USCIRF Commissioners are appointed by the President and the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives.
  • USCIRF’s principal responsibilities are to review the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and to make policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and the Congress.
  • In practice, the USCIRF has little teeth in implementation, but acts as a conscience-keeper for the two branches in the US government – the legislature and the executive.
  • The USCIRF is mandated to “monitor the universal right to freedom of religion or belief abroad — however, NOT in the U.S.

About the previous 2020 report

  • UCIRF downgraded India to the lowest ranking, “countries of particular concern” (CPC) in its 2020 report and it was the first time since 2004 that India has been placed in this category.
  • The report, released in Washington by the federal government commission that functions as an advisory body, placed India alongside countries, including China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
  • The commission noted in its report, which included specific concerns about the Citizenship Amendment Act, the proposed National Register for Citizens, anti-conversion laws and the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.
  • The national government used its strengthened parliamentary majority to institute national-level policies violating religious freedom across India, especially for Muslims.
  • The panel said that the CPC designation was also recommended because “national and various State governments also allowed nationwide campaigns of harassment and violence against religious minorities to continue with impunity, and engaged in and tolerated hate speech and incitement to violence against them”.
  • Under IRFA, the USCIRF called on the administration to “impose targeted sanctions on Indian government agencies and officials responsible for severe violations of religious freedom by freezing those individuals’ assets and/or barring their entry into the United States under human rights-related financial and visa authorities, citing specific religious freedom violations”.

Latest Recommendations of USCIRF

  • Recommendations for the CPC list are Russia, Syria and Vietnam and India.
  • Countries already on the CPCs list and recommended by USCIRF for re-designation are Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.
  • Afghanistan, Algeria, Azerbaijan, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Turkey and Uzbekistan are recommended for a ‘Special Watch List’, along with Cuba and Nicaragua, both of which were already on the list for 2019.
  • The report also recommends seven non-state actors for redesignation as “entities of particular concern” (EPCs)—al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, the Houthis, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM), and the Taliban.

Concerns regarding India raised in the 2021 report

  1. Passage of the Religiously Discriminatory Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019 (CAA): CAA fast-tracks citizenship for non-Muslim refugees from South Asian countries meeting certain other criteria.
  2. Delhi Riots: The report mentions the attack that took place on religious minorities during Delhi riots by the religious majority population in February 2020.
  3. National Register of Citizens (NRC): The consequences of exclusion – as exemplified by a large detention camp being built in Assam – are potentially devastating.
  4. Anti-Conversion Laws: Despite India’s constitutional protections for religious freedom, approximately one-third of India’s 28 states limit or prohibit religious conversion to protect the dominant religion from perceived threats from religious minorities.
  5. Disinformation and Incitement of Violence: Government officials and nonstate actors continued to use social media and other forms of communication to harass and spread hatred and disinformation against minority communities, including Muslims, Christians, and Dalits.
  6. Religious Freedom in Jammu and Kashmir: In Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir, restrictions on freedom of movement and assembly negatively impacted religious freedom, including the observance of religious holy days and the ability to attend prayers.
  7. Closing Space for Civil Society: Government officials used the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) and other statutes to detain advocates, media, and academics, including religious minorities.

Recommendations of the UCIRF in the 2021 report

  • It has recommended the US administration to impose targeted sanctions on Indian individuals and entities for ‘severe violations of religious freedom’.
  • Condemn ongoing religious freedom violations and support religious organizations and human rights groups being targeted for their advocacy of religious freedom.
  • The US administration should promote inter-faith dialogue and the rights of all communities at bilateral and multilateral forums “such as the ministerial of the Quadrilateral (the Quad).
  • The US Congress should raise issues in the US-India bilateral space, such as by hosting hearings, writing letters and constituting Congressional delegations.

-Source: The Hindu


COVID-19 impacts 82% of small businesses: Survey

Context:

A recent survey has showed that more than 82% of businesses have suffered a negative impact on account of COVID-19 and 70% expect it will take almost a year for demand to recover to pre-pandemic levels.

Relevance:

GS-III: Indian Economy (Growth & Development of Indian Economy)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Highlights of the Survey
  2. Problems Faced by MSMEs in India
  3. Problem Aggravated due to Covid-19

Highlights of the Survey

  • More than 82% of businesses have suffered a negative impact on account of COVID-19 and 70% expect it will take almost a year for demand to recover to pre-pandemic levels.
  • About 60% of the companies surveyed said that they would require more support measures, including government initiatives, to withstand the adverse impact.
  • Market access (42%), improving overall productivity (37%) and access to more finance (34%) were cited as the three key challenges that were most likely to hinder small businesses’ recovery.
  • The data indicated that about 95% of firms were impacted in April 2020 when the nationwide lockdown was imposed. Even with progressive unlocking, 70% of businesses remained disrupted till August 2020 and 40% till the end of February 2021.

Problems Faced by MSMEs in India

  • Being out of the formal network, the MSMEs do not have to maintain accounts, pay taxes or adhere to regulatory norms etc., which brings down their costs. But in a time of crisis, it also constrains a government’s ability to help them.
  • Most of the MSME funding comes from informal sources and it explains why the Reserve Bank of India’s efforts to push more liquidity towards the MSMEs have had a limited impact. Also, the government has launched schemes in this regard.
  • Further, banks dither from extending loans to MSMEs due to the high ratio of bad loans.
  • According to a 2018 report by the International Finance Corporation (part of the World Bank), the formal banking system supplies less than one-third (or about Rs 11 lakh crore) of the MSME credit need that it can potentially fund.
  • Delays in Payments to MSMEs is one of the biggest reasons for financial turmoil in the MSME sector. MSMEs face delays in payment from their buyers which also includes the government. It also faces delays in GST refunds.

Problem Aggravated due to Covid-19

  1. Declining Revenues: MSMEs are already struggling — in terms of declining revenues and capacity utilisation — in the lead-up to the Covid-19 crisis.
  2. Unavailability of Cash: The total lockdown has raised an issue of the existence of MSMEs primarily due to unavailability of cash which subsequently will result in the job losses.
  3. Lack of Labour Availability: The return of migrant labourers will create an issue of lack of labour availability.
  4. Loan Against Collateral: Loans to MSMEs are mostly given against property (as collateral) but in times of crisis, property values fall and that inhibits the extension of new loans.
  5. Steps Taken: To ease the firms’ financial distress during this period, the Reserve bank of India has announced several measures such as a moratorium on term loans, and easier working capital financing. Some public sector banks have also opened up emergency credit lines for businesses.

-Source: The Hindu


Global Youth Mobilization Local Solutions

Context:

Recently, an initiative called the ‘Global Youth Mobilization’ has been launched for youths in communities impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

A Global Youth Summit (GYS), to be held virtually on 23rd-25th April 2021, marks the starting point for young people to get involved in the mobilization.

Relevance:

Prelims, GS-II: Social Justice (Management and Development of Social Sector)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the Global Youth Mobilization initiative
  2. The need for such an initiative

About the Global Youth Mobilization initiative

  • The Global Youth Mobilization initiative is a movement of young people taking action to improve their lives now and in a post-Covid-19 world.
  • The initiative aims to address the negative impact of the pandemic on young people and support them to build back better.
  • It is supported by the world’s six largest youth organisations, World Health Organization (WHO), and United Nations (UN) Foundation.
  • With support from the Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund, Global Youth Mobilization will support and scale-up youth-led solutions and youth engagement programs across the world.
  • The Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund was established by the WHO with the help of the UN Foundation and the Swiss Philanthropy Foundation.

The need for such an Initiative

  • There are an estimated 1.2 billion young people impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic response measures.
  • Disruptions to education, employment, services and social support have changed the future of an entire generation.
  • According to ILO and various other estimates, some 90 per cent of young people have “reported increased mental anxiety during the pandemic” while “one in six young people worldwide have lost their jobs during the pandemic”.

-Source: Down to Earth Magazine


Australia ends Chinese deals on national interest

Context:

Australia said that it cancelled two accords between Victoria State and China on the Belt and Road Initiative because they were out of line with the federal government’s foreign policy, which sees a “free and open Indo-Pacific” as a key goal.

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (India and its Neighborhood, International Treaties & Agreements affecting India’s Interests)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Recent tussle between China and Australia
  2. Recently in news: Australia suspended extradition treaty with Hong Kong
  3. 5G Club plan to counter China

Recent tussle between China and Australia

  • The Australian government said that the accords were cancelled because his federal government didn’t want other levels of government to enter into agreements that are in conflict with Australia’s foreign policy. Under a new process, States must consult with the Foreign Minister before signing agreements with other nations.
  • A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman responded by urging Australia to abandon its “Cold War mentality and ideological bias” and “immediately correct its mistakes and change course”.
  • The Chinese Embassy earlier criticised the move by Foreign Minister Marise Payne to veto two agreements signed by Victoria State as “provocative”, and said it would further damage ties.

Recently in news: Australia suspended extradition treaty with Hong Kong

  • Australia suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong and extended visas for Hong Kong residents in response to China’s imposition of a tough national security law on the semi-autonomous territory.
  • Australia announced a range of visas that will be extended from two to five years and offers of pathways to permanent residency visas, although, it is not clear how many Hong Kongers are expected to get the extensions.
  • The move comes after China bypassed Hong Kong’s Legislative Council to impose the sweeping security legislation without public consultation.
  • Critics view it as a further deterioration of freedoms promised to the former British colony.

5G Club plan to counter China

  • India and Australia are sharing experiences on protecting critical infrastructure, including 5G networks, said a senior Australian High Commission official while talking of the huge increase in cybersecurity cooperation between the two countries, however, clarifying that Australia has no intention of banning Chinese apps like India has done.
  • India and Australia have a close and ongoing dialogue and exchange a range of experiences, including what is being done regarding critical infrastructure and aspects, including our 5G network, and how to police the dark web.
  • In August 2018, Australia had banned Chinese companies from offering 5G services, citing national security.
  • India banned 59 Chinese apps citing national security and later banned 47 more Chinese apps.
  • Britain said that it was pushing the U.S. to form a club of 10 nations that could develop its own 5G technology and reduce dependence on Huawei.
  • Proposed D10 club of democratic partners includes G7 countries – UK, US, Italy, Germany, France, Japan and Canada – plus Australia, South Korea and India.
  • It will aim to create alternative suppliers of 5G equipment and other technologies to avoid relying on China.
  • It can be seen as a means to ensure that these new entrants belong to like-minded democratic regimes, thus alleviating any security concerns.
  • This move will also allow more 5G equipment and technology providers to come up.
  • It basically addresses the raised concerns regarding potential surveillance and breach of their national security by China using the state-run Huawei.

-Source: The Hindu

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