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Current Affairs for UPSC IAS Exam – 25 June 2021

Contents

  1. Russia, U.K. spar over Black Sea incident
  2. The Antarctic Treaty is turning 60
  3. First time: An electoral trust declares donation
  4. CIA: 88% SMBs yet to avail any stimulus package benefits

Russia, U.K. spar over Black Sea incident

Context:

Russia accused Britain of spreading lies over a warship confrontation in the Black Sea and warned Britain that it would respond resolutely to any further provocative actions by the British Navy off the coast of Russia-annexed Crimea.

Relevance:

Prelims, GS-II: International Relations, GS-I: Geography (Maps)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About the current issue between Russia and U.K.
  2. Annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation
  3. About the Black Sea

About the current issue between Russia and U.K.

  • Russia said that it had fired warning shots and dropped bombs in the path of a British warship to chase it out of waters Moscow claims in the Black Sea off the coast of the Crimea peninsula.
  • Britain rejected Russia’s account of the incident, saying it believed any shots fired were a pre-announced Russian “gunnery exercise”, and that no bombs had been dropped.
  • However, Britain confirmed that its destroyer, HMS Defender, had sailed through what it described as waters belonging to Ukraine.
  • According to Britain, the ship was “conducting an innocent passage through Ukrainian territorial waters in accordance with international law”.
  • Military experts said that whether or not the details of the Russian or British accounts were accurate, the incident appeared to represent an escalation in confrontation between the West and Russia over disputed sea lanes.
  • Russia seized and annexed the Crimea peninsula from Ukraine in 2014 and considers areas around the peninsula’s coast to be Russian waters. Western countries deem the Crimea part of Ukraine and reject Russia’s claim to the seas around it.

Annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation

  • The Crimean Peninsula, north of the Black Sea in Eastern Europe, was annexed by the Russian Federation in 2014 and since then has been administered as two Russian federal subjects—the Republic of Crimea and the federal city of Sevastopol.
  • The annexation from Ukraine followed a Russian military intervention in Crimea that took place in the aftermath of the 2014 Ukrainian revolution and was part of wider 2014 pro-Russian unrest in Ukraine.
  • Ukraine and many other countries condemned the annexation and consider it to be a violation of international law and Russian-signed agreements safeguarding the territorial integrity of Ukraine, including the 1991 Belavezha Accords, the 1975 Helsinki Accords, the 1994 Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances and the 1997 Treaty.
  • In 2016, the UN General Assembly reaffirmed non-recognition of the annexation and condemned “the temporary occupation of part of the territory of Ukraine—the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol”.
  • The Russian government opposes the “annexation” label, with Putin defending the referendum as complying with the principle of self-determination of peoples.

About the Black Sea

  • The Black Sea is a marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean lying between Europe and Asia; east of the Balkans (Southeast Europe), south of the East European Plain in Eastern Europe, west of the Caucasus, and north of Anatolia in Western Asia.
  • The Black Sea is bordered by Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Turkey, and Ukraine.
  • The Black Sea ultimately drains into the Mediterranean Sea, via the Turkish Straits and the Aegean Sea.
  • The Bosporus Strait connects it to the small Sea of Marmara which in turn is connected to the Aegean Sea via the Strait of the Dardanelles. To the north, the Black Sea is connected to the Sea of Azov by the Kerch Strait.

-Source: The Hindu


The Antarctic Treaty is turning 60

Context:

The 1959 Antarctic Treaty celebrates its 60th anniversary on June 23rd 2021.

Relevance:

GS-II: International Relations (Important International Treaties, Important International Groupings and Agreements)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. Antarctic Treaty System
  2. About the Antarctic Treaty
  3. About the claims on Antarctica and the principle of the treaty
  4. India’s programmes in Antarctica

Antarctic Treaty System

  • The Antarctic Treaty and related agreements, collectively known as the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS), regulate international relations with respect to Antarctica, Earth’s only continent without a native human population.
  • For the purposes of the treaty system, Antarctica is defined as all of the land and ice shelves south of 60°S latitude. The treaty entered into force in 1961 and currently has 54 parties.
  • The treaty sets aside Antarctica as a scientific preserve, establishes freedom of scientific investigation, and bans military activity on the continent.
  • The treaty was the first arms control agreement established during the Cold War.
  • The Antarctic Treaty System’s yearly Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meetings (ATCM) are the international forum for the administration and management of the region.
  • Only 29 of the 54 parties to the agreements have the right to participate in decision-making at these meetings, though the other 25 are still allowed to attend.
  • Major International Agreements of the Treaty System:
    1. The 1959 Antarctic Treaty.
    2. The 1972 Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Seals.
    3. The 1980 Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.
    4. The 1991 Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty.

About the Antarctic Treaty

  • The Antarctic Treaty was signed between 12 countries in Washington on 1st December 1959 for making the Antarctic Continent a demilitarized zone to be preserved for scientific research only.
  • The twelve original signatories are Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Chile, France, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, South Africa, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the UK and the US.
  • Major Provisions of the Antarctic Treaty:
  • Promoting the freedom of scientific research.
  • Countries can use the continent only for peaceful purposes.
  • Prohibition of military activities, nuclear tests and the disposal of radioactive waste.
  • Neutralising territorial sovereignty, this means a limit was placed on making any new claim or enlargement of an existing claim.
  • It put a freeze on any disputes between claimants over their territories on the continent.

How the treaty has expanded in its 60 years?

  • Though the compact has held for 60 years, there have been tensions from time to time. Argentina and the UK, for instance, have overlapping claims to territory on the continent. When combined with their ongoing dispute over the nearby Falkland (Malvinas) Islands, their Antarctic relationship remains frosty.
  • A key reason why the treaty has been able to survive has been its ability to evolve through a number of additional conventions and other legal protocols. These have dealt with the conservation of marine living resources, prohibitions on mining, and the adoption of comprehensive environmental protection mechanisms.
  • Membership of the treaty has grown in the intervening years, with 54 signatories today.
  • Building, operating and conducting scientific research programs are key to the success not only of the treaty, but also to the claimants’ credibility in Antarctica.

About the claims on Antarctica and the principle of the treaty

  • Antarctica currently has no permanent population and therefore it has no citizenship nor government.
  • Personnel present on Antarctica at any time are almost always citizens or nationals of some sovereignty outside Antarctica, as there is no Antarctic sovereignty.
  • The majority of Antarctica is claimed by one or more countries, but most countries do not explicitly recognize those claims.
  • The area on the mainland between 90 degrees west and 150 degrees west is the only major land on Earth not claimed by any country.
  • Governments that are party to the Antarctic Treaty and its Protocol on Environmental Protection implement the articles of these agreements, and decisions taken under them, through national laws.
  • These laws generally apply only to their own citizens, wherever they are in Antarctica, and serve to enforce the consensus decisions of the consultative parties: about which activities are acceptable, which areas require permits to enter, what processes of environmental impact assessment must precede activities, and so on.
  • The Antarctic Treaty is often considered to represent an example of the common heritage of mankind principle.

India’s programmes in Antarctica

  • Indian Antarctic Programme: The Indian Antarctic Programme is a scientific research and exploration program under the National Centre for Antarctic and Ocean Research (NCPOR) that started in 1981 when the first Indian expedition to Antarctica was made.
  • Dakshin Gangotri: Dakshin Gangotri was the first Indian scientific research base station established in Antarctica, as a part of the Indian Antarctic Program. However, now it has weakened and become just a supply base.
  • Maitri: Maitri is India’s second permanent research station in Antarctica. It was built and finished in 1989 and is situated on the rocky mountainous region called Schirmacher Oasis.
  • Bharti: Bharti, India’s latest research station operation since 2012. It has been constructed to help researchers work in safety despite the harsh weather and it is India’s first committed research facility and is located about 3000 km east of Maitri.

-Source: Down to Earth Magazine


First time: An electoral trust declares donation

Context:

In what is probably the first instance of an electoral trust donating money through electoral bonds, an electoral trust funded by the MP Birla Group has declared a donation of Rs 3 crore through electoral bonds in 2019-20.

The Trust hasn’t revealed the names of the political parties that received this money, citing anonymity guaranteed under the electoral bond scheme.

Relevance:

GS-II: Polity and Governance (Government Policies and Interventions for Good Governance, Initiatives for Transparency and Accountability in Governance)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. ADR’s arguments against non-disclosure of names of political parties
  2. About the Electoral Trust Scheme
  3. What are Electoral Bonds?
  4. Issues with electoral funding
  5. Need for electoral bonds:

ADR’s arguments against non-disclosure of names of political parties

  • According to the Association of Democratic Reforms (ADR), this “practice is against the spirit of the Electoral Trusts Scheme, 2013 and Rule 17CA of the Income Tax Rules, 1962 which make it mandatory for trusts to furnish each and every detail about the donor contributing to the trust”.
  • Therefore, if Electoral trusts start adopting this precedent of donating through bonds, which do not permit disclosure norms and discourage transparency rules/laws then it is like going back in time before the Electoral Trusts Scheme, 2013 was incorporated.
  • In such a scenario, it will be a complete mayhem of unfair practices i.e., total anonymity, unchecked and unlimited funding, free flow of black money circulation, corruption, foreign funding, corporate donations and related conflict of interest etc.
  • Such a practice completely negates the very purpose behind the inception of the Electoral Trusts Scheme, 2013 and Rule 17CA of the I.T Rules, 1962.

About the Electoral Trust Scheme

  • Electoral Trust is a non-profit organization formed in India for orderly receiving of the contributions from any person.
  • Electoral Trusts are relatively new in India and are part of the ever-growing electoral restructurings in the country.
  • Electoral Trusts Scheme, 2013 was notified by the Central Board of Direct Taxes (CBDT) and the provisions related to the electoral trust are under Income-tax Act, 1961 and Income tax rules-1962.
  • It lays down a procedure for grant of approval to an electoral trust which will receive voluntary contributions and distribute the same to the political parties.
  • A political party registered under section 29A of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 shall be an eligible political party and an electoral trust shall distribute funds only to the eligible political parties.
  • Electoral Trusts are designed to bring in more transparency in the funds provided by corporate entities to the political parties for their election related expenses.
  • The Election Commission had also circulated guidelines for submission of contribution reports of electoral trusts to submit an annual report containing details of contributions received by the electoral trusts and disbursed by them to political parties in the interest of transparency.

What are Electoral Bonds?

  • An electoral bond is like a promissory note that can be bought by any Indian citizen or company incorporated in India from select branches of State Bank of India.
  • The citizen or corporate can then donate the same to any eligible political party of his/her choice.
  • The bonds are similar to bank notes that are payable to the bearer on demand and are free of interest.
  • An individual or party will be allowed to purchase these bonds digitally or through cheque.

Issues with electoral funding

  • Opacity in donations: Political parties receive majority of their funds through anonymous donations (approximately 70%) through cash. Also, parties are exempted from income tax, which provides a channel for black money hoarders.
  • Lack of action against bribes: The EC sought insertion of a new section, 58B, to RPA, 1951 to enable it to take action if parties bribe voters of a constituency, which has not come to light.
  • Allowing foreign funding: Amendment of the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act (FCRA) has opened the floodgates of foreign funding to political parties, which can lead to eventual interference in governance.
  • Lack of transparency: Despite provisions under section 29 of RPA, 1951, parties do not submit their annual audit reports to the Election Commission. Parties have also defied that they come under the ambit of RTI act.

Need for electoral bonds:

  • Electoral Bonds limit the use of cash in political funding.
  • It also reduces using illicit means of funding and the ‘system’ was wholly opaque and ensured complete anonymity.
  • To curb black money – payments made for the issuance of the electoral bonds are accepted only by means of a demand draft, cheque or through the Electronic Clearing System or direct debit to the buyers’ account”.
  • Limiting the time for which the bond is valid ensures that the bonds do not become a parallel currency.
  • Eliminate fraudulent political parties that were formed on pretext of tax evasion, as there is a stringent clause of eligibility for the political parties in the scheme.
  • Electoral Bonds protect donors from political victimization- as non-disclosure of the identity of the donor is the core objective of the scheme.

-Source: The Hindu


CIA: 88% SMBs yet to avail any stimulus package benefits

Context:

The findings of a survey conducted by the Consortium of Indian Associations (CIA) show that as many as 88% of self-employed, small and medium businesses (SMB) said they were yet to avail any benefit under the stimulus packages introduced by the Centre while 82% felt the Union and State governments were not taking care of their interests.

Relevance:

GS-III: Indian Economy (Growth and Development of Indian Economy), GS-II: Social Justice (Government’s Welfare Schemes)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. SMB (small and medium-sized business or small and midsized business)
  2. Predicament of the SMBs in India

SMB (small and medium-sized business or small and midsized business)

  • SMB is an abbreviation for small and medium-sized business, sometimes seen as small and midsized business. A business with 100 or fewer employees is generally considered small, while one with 100-999 employees is considered to be medium-sized.
  • ‘SMBs are critical to our economy as they contribute nearly a third of our GDP and generate employment for millions.
  • The ongoing pandemic has impacted SMBs as much as any other segment’ but the agility and flexibility in their operations, coupled with the adaptability to changing business environments and customer needs means they can bounce back far more quickly.

Predicament of the SMBs in India

  • 73% of SMBs have not made any profit during the last fiscal and 42% were unable to decide on retention of employees, 59% said they reduced/sacked/removed their staff compared witho the pre-COVID period.
  • The findings also touched upon the point that the laws relating to land use by industries, especially MSMEs, need a relook as these were not conducive to their growth.

Way Forwards suggested by the CIA

  • The findings suggest that the government should adopt a three-pronged approach towards SMBs viz. exempting them from statutory compliances, penal actions and litigation; protecting them from high interest burden, price wars, high cost of raw materials, losing employees, penalties, and late fees and supporting them by giving liberal loans, clearing pending dues, offering moratorium with interest waiver and not declaring NPAs for the sector for a year.
  • CIA has proposed that the government amend the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Act, 2006, to strengthen State facilitation councils.
  • CIA has highlighted a series of long term and short-term measures to the Central and State gGovernments to beat the impact of the lockdown on the SMBs.
  • It has also proposed to start collecting data of sSelf-employed, MSME businesses in the country from banks. Based on this data, the business type could be correctly classified as traders, professionals, service providers, exporters, engineering enterprises, etc., as well as employees in them as migrant and formal.

-Source: The Hindu

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