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North-East India – Security and Developmental Issues

Comprehensive Bodo Settlement AgreementPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Bodoland statehood issue


 

  • The MHA, the Assam government and the Bodo groups have signed an agreement to redraw and rename the Bodoland Territorial Area District (BTAD) in Assam, currently spread over four districts of Kokrajhar, Chirang, Baksa and Udalguri.
  • Several Bodo groups led have been demanding a separate land for the ethnic community since 1972, a movement that has claimed nearly 4,000 lives.

Background

  • The first Bodo accord was signed with the ABSU in 1993, leading to the creation of a Bodoland Autonomous Council with limited political powers.
  • The BTC was created in 2003 with some more financial and other powers.
  • The BTAD and other areas mentioned under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution have been exempted from the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019.

Highlights of the Agreement

  • As per the agreement, villages dominated by Bodos that were presently outside the BTAD would be included and those with non-Bodo population would be excluded.
  • Bodos living in the hills would be conferred a Scheduled Hill Tribe status.
  • The BTAD is to be renamed as the Bodoland Territorial Region (BTR).

Rehabilitation and relief

  • The criminal cases registered against members of the NDFB factions for “non-heinous” crimes shall be withdrawn by the Assam government and in cases of heinous crimes it will be reviewed.
  • A Special Development Package of Rs. 1500 Crore would be given by the Centre to undertake specific projects for the development of Bodo areas.

A separate Commission

  • It proposes to set up a commission under Section 14 of the Sixth Schedule to the Constitution which will recommend the inclusion or exclusion of tribal population residing in villages adjoining BTAD areas.
  • In this commission, besides State government, there will be representatives from ABSU and BTC. It will submit its recommendation within six months.

Changes in Legislature

  • The total number of Assembly seats will go up to 60, from the existing 40.
  • The present settlement has a proposal to give more legislative, executive, administrative and financial powers to BTC.

Bodo as an official language

  • The Assam government will also notify Bodo language as an associate official language in the state and will set up a separate directorate for Bodo medium schools.
  • Bodo with Devnagri script would be the associate official language for the entire Assam.

Significance of the agreement

  • The signing of the agreement would “end the 50-year-old Bodo crisis.”
  • Around 1500 cadres of BODO militant factions will be rehabilitated by Centre and Assam Government.
Industrial Sector Updates – Industrial Policy, Ease of Doing Business, etc.

Air India DisinvestmentPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Disinvestment processes in India


The government has kicked off the complete disinvestment process of Air India for the second time after it failed to receive a single bid in the first attempt back in 2018.

100% stake sale

  • Most significantly, the government will offload 100% of its stake in Air India, compared with 76% put on the block last time.
  • The government holding even a minor stake in the airline post disinvestment was seen as a huge negative for any potential buyers.
  • The buyer will have to take on Rs 23,286 crore of debt out of a total Rs 60,074 crore.
  • Compared with this, in the last attempt, a potential buyer would have to take on Rs 33,392 crore of debt and current liabilities.
  • The amount of debt being bundled with the airline in this attempt is towards the aircraft that are being sold off along with the carrier as part of the transaction.
  • The working capital and other non-aircraft debt will be retained by the government.

Air India’s assets

  • The new owner will be taking on a fleet of 121 aircraft in Air India’s fleet and 25 planes in Air India Express’ fleet.
  • These exclude the four Boeing 747-400 jumbojet aircraft that the airline plans to transfer to its subsidiary Alliance Air, which is not a part of the current transaction.
  • However, like the last attempt, the properties currently in use by Air India, including the Nariman Point building and the company’s headquarters near Connaught Place in New Delhi will be retained by the government.

Will the new terms attract investors?

  • Air India has a 50.64% market share in international traffic among Indian carriers.
  • The government is hopeful of attracting investors with the new sale criteria, coupled with the main benefits of the airline, which are prime slots in capacity-constrained airports across the world.
  • However, any potential investor is also expected to look at the size of the airline’s operations with reference to what those operations generate.
  • For example, both Air India and Singapore Airlines operate with a fleet of 121 aircraft, but in 2018-19 Air India posted a net loss of Rs 8,556 crore, whereas Singapore Airlines reported a net profit of Singapore $ 779.1 million (approx Rs 4,100 crore).

What will the new investor get?

  • The most attractive proposition in acquiring Air India is the slots and landing rights that it holds at airports such at Delhi, Mumbai, London, New York, Chicago, Paris, etc.
  • These could be helpful both to airlines looking to expand into long-haul international operations, and to entities looking to set up global operations from scratch.
  • Air India currently operates to 56 Indian cities and 42 international destinations.
  • The new investor also gets hold of the ground-handling firm AI-SATS, which offers end-to-end ground handling services such as passenger and baggage handling, ramp handling, aircraft interior cleaning etc. at Bengaluru, Delhi, Hyderabad, Mangaluru and Thiruvananthapuram airports.
  • This would provide the investor with an ancillary services firm with captive use.

Loss makers in AI

  • Several of Air India’s international and domestic routes are profit-generating, while a number of them are loss-making or witness low load factors.
  • This is a legacy problem that the airline comes with for the new promoter.
  • Additionally, while the airline comes with 121 aircraft primed as domestic and international workhorses, 18 of them are grounded for lack of funds to make them airworthy.

How will consumers and employees be impacted?

Consumers

  • If and when Air India is taken over by a private entity or consortium, experts believe the first move could be pruning of operations to ensure the airline inches closer to profitability.
  • This could cause Air India to cease operations on certain loss-making domestic and international routes — leading to a rise in fares.
  • It is believed that Air India’s continuous loss-making operations have skewed the market, wherein private companies have to play ball even when fares are artificially low.
  • Cutting certain routes could also impact consumers in terms of the unique offerings by Air India, such as higher baggage allowance, etc.

Employees of AI

  • Air India’s bloated staff strength was flagged by potential investors in the last disinvestment attempt.
  • The airline has 17,984 employees, of which 9,617 are permanent staff.
  • Whether the employees will be retained by the new investor is unclear.
  • The government is expected to provide more clarity on conditions for retaining staff in the request-for-proposal stage, which will come after expressions of interest are received.
Health Sector – UHC, National Health Policy, Family Planning, Health Insurance, etc.

Why China has emerged as the epicentre of global outbreaks of disease?Priority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Zoonotic diseases

Mains level : Threats posed by coronavirus outbreak


Several deadly new viruses in recent years have emerged in China — Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), bird flu, and now the novel Coronavirus (nCOV).

Zoonotic infections

  • Closely packed stalls in busy marketplaces, the Chinese taste for exotic meats, and the high population density of cities create the conditions for the spread of zoonotic infections.
  • The reason could lie in the busy food markets dotting cities across the country — where fruits, vegetables, hairy crabs and butchered meat are often sold next to bamboo rats, snakes, turtles, and palm civets.
  • The relationship between zoonotic pathogens and global pandemics are not new.
  • The WHO estimates that globally, about a billion cases of illness and millions of deaths occur every year from zoonoses, i.e, diseases and infections naturally transmitted between people and vertebrate animals.
  • Some 60% of emerging infectious diseases globally are zoonoses. Of the over 30 new human pathogens detected over the last three decades, 75% originated in animals.

Major cause: Animal markets

  • In animal markets, there are greater chances of transmission of a virus from animals to humans, and its mutation to adapt to the human body.
  • It has happened wherever in the world there is unregulated mixing of humans and animals, either wild or domesticated.
  • The official referred to the Ebola outbreak in Africa there it was wild chimpanzees who had the disease. It came into humans after these were killed and consumed.

Biorock technique for Coral RestorationPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Biorock Technique, Coral Bleaching

Mains level : Coral restoration measures


 

The Zoological Survey of India (ZSI), with help from Gujarat’s forest department, is attempting for the first time a process to restore coral reefs using biorock or mineral accretion technology.

What is Biorock Technique?

  • Biorock is the name given to the substance formed by electro accumulation of minerals dissolved in seawater on steel structures that are lowered onto the sea bed and are connected to a power source, in this case solar panels that float on the surface.
  • The technology works by passing a small amount of electrical current through electrodes in the water.
  • When a positively charged anode and negatively charged cathode are placed on the sea floor, with an electric current flowing between them, calcium ions combine with carbonate ions and adhere to the structure (cathode).
  • This results in calcium carbonate formation. Coral larvae adhere to the CaCO3 and grow quickly.
  • Fragments of broken corals are also tied to the biorock structure, where they are able to grow at least four to six times faster than their actual growth as they need not spend their energy in building their own calcium carbonate skeletons.

Significance of the move

  • The technology helps corals, including the highly sensitive branching corals, to counter the threats posed by global warming.
  • In 2015, the same group of ZSI scientists had successfully restored branching coral species (staghorn corals) belonging to the family Acroporidae (Acropora formosa, Acropora humilis, Montipora digitata) that had gone extinct about 10,000 years ago to the Gulf of Kachchh.

Back2Basics

Coral Bleaching

  • The stunning colours in corals come from a marine algae called zooxanthellae, which live inside their tissues.
  • This algae provides the corals with an easy food supply thanks to photosynthesis, which gives the corals energy, allowing them to grow and reproduce.
  • When corals get stressed, from things such as heat or pollution, they react by expelling this algae, leaving a ghostly, transparent skeleton behind.
  • This is known as ‘coral bleaching’. Some corals can feed themselves, but without the zooxanthellae most corals starve.
Historical and Archaeological Findings in News

Nagardhan ExcavationsPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Vakataka Dynasty and important rulers

Mains level : Life and society during Vakataka period


 

  • Recent archaeological excavations at Nagardhan near Nagpur have provided concrete evidence on the life, religious affiliations and trade practices of the Vakataka dynasty that ruled parts of Central and South India between the third and fifth centuries.
  • After a 1,500 year-old sealing was excavated for the first time, a new study in Numismatic Digest has tried to understand the Vakataka rule under Queen Prabhavatigupta.

Nagardhan

  • Nagardhan is a large village in Nagpur district, about 6 km south of Ramtek taluka headquarters.
  • Archaeological remains were found on a surface spread over a 1 km × 1.5 km area. The researchers excavated the site during 2015-2018.
  • The existing village sits on top of the ancient habitation. The Nagardhan Fort stands south of present-day Nagardhan village.
  • This was constructed during the Gond Raja period and later renovated and re-used by the Bhosales of Nagpur during the late 18th and 19th centuries.

Importance of the excavation

  • Very little was known about the Vakatakas, the Shaivite rulers of Central India between the third and fifth centuries.
  • All that was known about the dynasty, believed to hail from the Vidarbha region, was largely through some literature and copperplates.
  • There were assumptions that the excavated site of Nagardhan is the same as Nandhivardhan, the capital city of the eastern branch of the Vakatakas.
  • It was after archaeological evidence from here that Nagardhan was understood to have served as a capital of the Vakataka kingdom.

The seals so found

  • It is the first time clay sealings have been excavated from Nagardhan.
  • The oval-shaped sealing belongs to the period when Prabhavatigupta was the queen of the Vakataka dynasty.
  • It bears her name in the Brahmi script along with the depiction of a conch.
  • The presence of the conch, scholars say, is a sign of the Vaishnava affiliation that the Guptas held.
  • The sealing was traced on top of a mega wall that researchers now think could have been part of a royal structure at the capital city of the kingdom.

Who was Queen Prabhavatigupta?

  • The copperplate issued by Queen Prabhavatigupta starts with a genealogy of the Guptas, mentioning the Queen’s grandfather Samudragupta and her father Chandragupta II.
  • These are strong indicators of Vaishnava signatures on the royal seals of the Vakatakas reiterate that Queen Prabhavatigupta was indeed a powerful woman ruler.
  • Since the Vakataka people traded with Iran and beyond through the Mediterranean Sea, scholars suggest that these sealings could have been used as official royal permission issued from the capital city.
  • Besides, these were used on documents that sought mandatory royal permissions.

Why are the findings on Queen Prabhavatigupta significant?

  • Scholars say Queen Prabhavatigupta was among a handful of women rulers in India to have reigned over any kingdom during ancient times.
  • The Vakataka rulers were known to have forged several matrimonial alliances with other dynasties of their times.
  • One of the key alliances was with Prabhavatigupta of the mighty Gupta dynasty, which was then ruling north India. The Guptas were way more powerful than the Vakatakas.
  • After marrying Vakataka king Rudrasena II, Prabhavatigupta enjoyed the position of Chief Queen.
  • When she took over the Vakataka kingdom, after the sudden demise of Rudrasena II, her stature as a woman Vakataka ruler rose significantly.
  • This is evident from the fact that the sealings were introduced and issued during her period as a ruler, that too from the capital city of Nagardhan.

Why is the sign of Vaishnava affiliation important?

  • The Vakataka rulers followed the Shaiva sect of Hinduism while the Guptas were staunch Vaishnavites.
  • Excavators say that many religious structures indicating affinity to the Vaishnava sect, and found in Ramtek, were built during the reign of Queen Prabhavatigupta.
  • While she was married into a family that belonged to the Shaiva sect, the queen’s powers allowed her to choose a deity of worship, that is, Lord Vishnu.

What else has been excavated from Nagardhan so far?

  • Earlier results from the excavations here had traced evidence in the form of ceramics, ear studs of glass, antiquities, bowls and pots, a votive shrine and tank, an iron chisel, a stone depicting a deer, and terracotta bangles.
  • Some terracotta objects even depicted images of gods, animals and humans, along with amulets, scotches, wheels, skin rubbers and spindle whorls.
  • An intact idol of Lord Ganesha, which had no ornaments adorned, too was found from the site.
  • This confirmed that the elephant god was a commonly worshipped deity in those times.
  • On the means of living of the Vakataka people, researchers found animal rearing to be one of the main occupations.
  • Remains of seven species of domestic animals — cattle, goat, sheep, pig, cat, horse and fowl — were traced in an earlier study by the team.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-SAARC Nations

Sagarmatha SambaadPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : SAARC, Sagarmatha Sambaad

Mains level : Fading relevance of SAARC


 

Nepal has invited the PMs of India and Pakistan along with several other heads of government and heads of state for the Sagarmatha Sambaad.

Sagarmatha Sambaad

  • Sagarmatha Sambaad is a multi-stakeholder, permanent global dialogue forum initiated by the Government of Nepal.
  • It is scheduled to be held biennially in Nepal.
  • The Sambaad (dialogue) is named after the world’s tallest mountain Sagarmatha (Mount Everest).
  • The Everest is also a symbol of friendship and is meant to promote the notions of common good and collective well-being of humanity.
  • The first episode of the Sambaad is scheduled to be held from 2 to 4 April 2020 by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Nepal).
  • The theme of the first Sambaad is “Climate Change, Mountains and the Future of Humanity.”

Significance

  • This is the first ever multi-stakeholder dialogue and a biggest diplomatic initiative in Nepal’s recent history.
  • India and Pakistan have been caught up in a cycle of hostility, which had prevented Islamabad from hosting the SAARC Summit in 2016.
  • The Kathmandu event aims to draw all the SAARC leaders and provide an opportunity to break the ice.
  • India had accused Pakistan of cross border terrorism while boycotting the Islamabad summit leading to its cancellation.
Trade Sector Updates – Falling Exports, TIES, MEIS, Foreign Trade Policy, etc.

Forex Reserves of IndiaPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : India's Forex reserves, SDR, Reserve tranche

Mains level : Forex Reserves and its significance


India’s foreign exchange reserves rose by $943 million to touch a lifetime high of $462.16 billion according to the latest data from the RBI.

Forex reserves of India

  • They are holdings of cash, bank deposits, bonds, and other financial assets denominated in currencies other than Indian rupee.
  • The reserves are managed by the Reserve Bank of India for the Indian government and the main component is foreign currency assets.
  • They act as the first line of defense for India in case of economic slowdown, but acquisition of reserves has its own costs.
  • They facilitate external trade and payment and promote orderly development and maintenance of foreign exchange market in India.
  • They act as a cushion against rupee volatility once global interest rates start rising.

Composition of Forex

  • Reserve Bank of India Act and the Foreign Exchange Management Act, 1999 set the legal provisions for governing the foreign exchange reserves.
  • RBI accumulates foreign currency reserves by purchasing from authorized dealers in open market operations.
  • The Forex reserves of India consist of below four categories:
  1. Foreign Currency Assets
  2. Gold
  3. Special Drawing Rights (SDRs)
  4. Reserve Tranche Position

What is Reserve tranche?

  • Reserve tranche is a portion of the required quota of currency each member country must provide to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that can be utilized for its own purposes.

What are Special Drawing Rights?

  • The SDR is an international reserve asset, created by the IMF in 1969 to supplement its member countries’ official reserves
  • The SDR is neither a currency nor a claim on the IMF.
  • Initially SDR was defined as equivalent to 0.888671 grams of fine gold, which at the time, was also equivalent to one U.S. dollar.
  • After the collapse of the Bretton Woods system, the SDR was redefined as a basket of currencies.
  • This basket Includes five currencies—the U.S. dollar, the euro, the Chinese renminbi, the Japanese yen, and the British pound sterling.
Forest Conservation Efforts – NFP, Western Ghats, etc.

Shola Forests of the NilgirisPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Shola Forests

Mains level : Western Ghats and its biodiversity richness


 

Shola Forests

  • The Shola forests of South India derive their name from the Tamil word solai, which means a ‘tropical rain forest’.
  • Classified as ‘Southern Montane Wet Temperate Forest’ the Sholas are found in the upper reaches of the Nilgiris, Anamalais, Palni hills, Kalakadu, Mundanthurai and Kanyakumari in the states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala.
  • These forests are found sheltered in valleys with sufficient moisture and proper drainage, at an altitude of more than 1,500 metres.

Vegetation

  • The upper reaches are covered with grasslands, known as Shola grasslands.
  • The vegetation that grows in Shola forests is evergreen. The trees are stunted and have many branches. Their rounded and dense canopies appear in different colours.
  • Generally, the leaves are small in size and leathery. Red-coloured young leaves turning into different colours on maturity is a prominent characteristic of the Shola forests.
  • Epiphytes like lichens, ferns and bryophytes usually grow on the trees.
  • The occurrence of Himalayan plants like rhododendron in these Shola forests is a mystery.

Significance of Sholas

  • Sholas thus act as ‘overhead water tanks’. They play a major role in conserving water supply of the Nilgiris’ streams.
  • The trees are slow-growing varieties which produce timber of little or no value and probably take at least a century to mature.
  • The rolling grasslands found on top of the Western Ghats, enhance the beauty of the region. Usually, Shola forests and grasslands are found in a ratio of 1:5.
  • The rain received from the Southwest and Northeast monsoons is harvested by the Shola forest-grassland ecosystem, leading to the formation of the Bhavani river that finally drains into the Cauvery.
  • Thus, the Shola forest-grassland ecosystem of the Nilgiris, also supports the prosperity of Cauvery delta farmers.
  • As tree species of the montane, evergreen forests are flammable, regeneration of any Shola tree species is completely prevented except for Rhododendron nilagiricum, the only Shola tree that can tolerate fire.

Threats to Sholas

  • Unfortunately, the Sholas have begun to gradually shrink due to the introduction of alien plant species and annual fire occurrences.
  • Alien species like Sticky Snakeroot, Gorse and Scotch Broom introduced during British rule, have encroached upon the grasslands.
  • During 1840, tree species such as Acacia and Eucalyptus were introduced from Australia.
  • Afterwards, between 1886 and 1891, Pine and Cypress were introduced, again from Australia. As the alien species grew, the forests and grasslands gradually became degraded and shrank.
  • In addition, unscientific agricultural practices like growing tea on the slopes, cattle grazing and fuel wood collection have become serious causes for degradation.
  • Unregulated tourism has created concrete jungles, traffic congestion and caused the generation of garbage.

Wrath of Eucalyptus

  • During 1849, the extent of Shola forests was 8,600 hectares (ha), grasslands 29,875 ha and agriculture was 10,875 ha.
  • No wattle or eucalyptus was planted in the area at that time.
  • The comparison of the results of the 1849 and 1992 studies shows that cultivation of tea, wattle and eucalyptus has reduced the Shola forest-grassland ecosystem to a great extent.

Protective measures

  • After realizing the seriousness of the situation, the government banned the planting of wattle and eucalyptus completely in 1987.
  • Ecological restoration and biodiversity conservation were given importance.
  • Under the Hill Area Development Programme since the mid-1980s, seedlings have been planted in degraded patches and protected with chain-link fences to restore the forests.
  • Special Shola forest protection committees were formed involving teachers, nature lovers, ecologists, environmentalists, students and villagers in the Nilgiris.
  • They were motivated to remove plastic garbage from the nearby forests, protect Shola trees, remove alien species and learn about the importance of the Sholas.
  • Presently, the Tamil Nadu forest department is now focusing on eradicating wattle, providing fencing and planting shola seedlings in degraded shola forests.
ISRO Missions and Discoveries

NavIC navigation systemPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NAVIC, IRNSS

Mains level : Utility of NAVIC


 

Qualcomm Technologies has released chipsets, supporting India’s own GPS system ‘Navigation with Indian Constellation’ (NavIC).

New androids to be equipped with NavIC

  • The Qualcomm chipsets now supports up to 7 satellite constellations at the same time, including the use of all of NavIC’s operating satellites.
  • These enhancements will enable select mobile, automotive and IoT platforms to better serve key industries and technology ecosystems in the region.
  • It will help improve user experience for location-based applications especially in dense urban environments where geolocation accuracy tends to degrade, said the company earlier.

About NavIC

  • The name NavIC was given by Prime Minister Narendra Modi after successful launch of the seventh navigation satellite, in April, 2016.
  • To date, ISRO has built a total of nine satellites in the IRNSS series, of which eight are currently in orbit.
  • The constellation is designed to provide accurate position information service to users in India as well as the region extending up to 1,500 km from its boundary, which is its primary service area.
  • It is designed to provide two types of services – Standard Positioning Service (SPS), which is provided to all users and Restricted Service (RS), which is an encrypted service provided only to the authorised users.
  • The system is expected to provide a position accuracy of better than 20 m in the primary service area.

For more readings about NAVIC, navigate to the page:

NAVIC (Navigation in Indian Constellation)

J&K – The issues around the state

Explained: The Kashmir Pandit tragedyExplainedPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : NA

Mains level : Kashmiri Pandits and the hurdles in their rehabiliation


 

It is 30 years since the “exodus” from the Valley of its minority Hindu Kashmiri Pandit community.

The run-up: 1980s to 1990

  • Sheikh Abdullah had died in 1982, and the leadership of the National Conference passed on to his son Farooq Abdullah, who won the 1983 election.
  • But within two years, the Centre broke up the NC, and installed dissident Ghulam Mohammed Shah as Chief Minister. This led to huge disaffection and political instability.
  • The Jammu & Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) stepped up its activities, and the hanging of the militant leader Maqbool Bhat in 1984 added to the sense of foreboding.
  • In 1986, after the Rajiv Gandhi government opened the Babri Masjid locks to enable Hindus to offer prayers there, ripples were felt in Kashmir too.
  • In Anantnag, the constituency of then Congress leader Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, there was a series of attacks on Hindu temples, and shops and properties of Kashmiri Pandits, blamed on separatist and secessionists.
  • Pandits had begun to be targeted. Eminent persons of the community were being shot dead.

The night of January 19, 1990

  • Matters came to a head on January 19. By then, the Farooq Abdullah government had been dismissed and Governor’s Rule imposed.
  • According to accounts published by many eminent Kashmiri Pandits, there were threatening slogans over loudspeakers from mosques, and on the streets.
  • Speeches were made extolling Pakistan and the supremacy of Islam, and against Hinduism. Finally, the Kashmiri Pandit community decided to leave.

The Gawkadal Massacre

  • On January 20, the first stream began leaving the Valley with hastily packed belongings in whatever transport they could find. A second, larger wave left in March and April, after more Pandits were killed.
  • On January 21, the CRPF gunned down 160 Kashmiri Muslim protesters at the Gawkadal Bridge, which has come to be known as the worst massacre in the long history of the conflict in Kashmir.
  • The two events — the flight of the Pandits and the Gawkadal massacre — took place within 48 hours.

How many Pandits left?

  • According to some estimates, notably by the Kashmiri Pandit Sangharsh Samiti (KPSS), of 75,343 Kashmiri Pandit families in January 1990, more than 70,000 fled between 1990 and 1992 and continued until 2000.
  • The KPSS has placed the number of Kashmiri Pandits killed by militants from 1990 to 2011 at 399, the majority during 1989-90.
  • Some 800 families have remained in the Valley through these three decades.

Role of the administration

  • The other contentious question about the exodus is the role played by the administration, and more specifically that of the J&K Governor, Jagmohan.
  • Newly appointed, he had arrived in Srinagar on January 19.
  • The Kashmiri Muslim view of the exodus is that he encouraged the Pandits to leave the Valley and thus gave a communal colour to what was until then a non-religious Kashmiri cause.
  • The Kashmiri Hindu view is that this is a disingenuous interpretation.
  • They believe that Kashmiri Muslims, with whom they had lived amicably for centuries, drove them out with a vengeance in a frenzy of Islamism that they could not have imagined even months earlier.
  • The truth, many commentators have concluded, may have been somewhere in the middle.

The question of return

  • Those who had means rebuilt their lives elsewhere in the country — Delhi, Pune, Mumbai and Ahmedabad have Pandit populations, also Jaipur and Lucknow — or went abroad.
  • The fleeing Pandits did not think they would never return to the Valley. But as the situation in Kashmir spiraled into a full-blown militancy, return began to look remote if not impossible.
  • The longing to return to the Valley did not diminish over the years, though it may have become more an idea than a real ambition.
  • Successive governments have promised that they will help this process, but the situation on the ground in Kashmir has meant this remains only an intention.
  • There is an acute realization in the community that the Valley is no longer the same that they left behind in 1990.
  • In many cases, their properties were either immediately vandalised or sold quickly by the owners to Kashmiri Muslims. Many fell into disrepair.
Corruption Challenges – Lokpal, POCA, etc

Corruption Perception Index 2019IOCRPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Corruption Perception Index 2019

Mains level : Menace of corruption in India


The Corruption Perception report for 2019 has been released. It has revealed that a majority of countries are showing little to no improvement in tackling corruption.

About CPI

  • The CPI is annually released by Transparency International.
  • It draws on 13 surveys and expert assessments to measure public sector corruption in 180 countries and territories, giving each a score from zero (highly corrupt) to 100 (very clean).

India’s performance

  • India’s ranking in the CPI-2019 has slipped from 78 to 80 compared to the previous year.
  • Its score of 41 out of 100 remains the same.
  • CPI highlighted that unfair and opaque political financing, undue influence in decision-making and lobbying by powerful corporate interest groups, has resulted in stagnation or decline in the control of corruption.

Global corruption

  • In the Asia Pacific region, the average score is 45, after many consecutive years of an average score of 44, which “illustrates general stagnation” across the region.
  • China has improved its position from 87 to 80 with a score of 41 out of 100, a two-point jump.
  • Despite the presence of high performers like New Zealand (87), Singapore (85), Australia (77), Hong Kong (76) and Japan (73), the Asia Pacific region hasn’t witnessed substantial progress in anti-corruption.
  • In addition, low performers like Afghanistan (16), North Korea (17) and Cambodia (20) continue to highlight serious challenges in the region.
  • The top ranked countries are New Zealand and Denmark, with scores of 87 each, followed by Finland (86), Singapore (85), Sweden (85) and Switzerland (85).
Rohingya Conflict

ICJ ruling on RohingyasPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : ICJ

Mains level : Rhohingya settlement issue


 

  • The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Myanmar must take effective measures to protect its Rohingya Muslims, including protecting evidence relating to allegations of genocide.
  • It is important to note that these directions are “provisional measures” until the ICJ can finally decide if Myanmar has been committing genocide against the Rohingya. The final verdict could take years.

What is the case against Myanmar?

  • Last year, the Republic of the Gambia moved the ICJ against Myanmar over alleged violations of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
  • The Gambia urged the ICJ to direct Myanmar to stop the genocide, ensure that persons committing genocide are punished, and allow the “safe and dignified return of forcibly displaced Rohingya”.
  • The Gambia and Myanmar are parties to the Genocide Convention that allows a party to move the ICJ for violations.
  • Disputes between the Contracting Parties are settled according to Article 9 of the Genocide Convention.

How did Myanmar respond?

  • Myanmar asked the ICJ to remove the case from its list, citing lack of jurisdiction of the court.
  • Myanmar alleged that the proceedings before the court were instituted by the Gambia, not on its own behalf, but rather as a “proxy” and “on behalf of” the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
  • Gambia is a member of the OIC, which includes 53 Muslim-majority nations.
  • Myanmar cited the Gambia’s reliance on OIC documents to allege genocide and said the Gambia did not point to specific violations of the Genocide Convention.
  • The court refused to accept Myanmar’s argument and said the fact that the Gambia “may have sought and obtained the support of other States or international organizations in its endeavour” does not take away from its right to bring a case against Myanmar.

Does the ICJ ruling indict Myanmar?

  • Although a ruling against Myanmar dents its image internationally, the order of provisional measures does not translate into a finding against Myanmar.
  • While granting provisional measures, the court is not required to ascertain whether Myanmar violated the Genocide Convention.
  • The court found that it is sufficient at this stage “to establish prima facie the existence of a dispute between the Parties relating to the interpretation, application or fulfillment of the Genocide Convention”.
  • Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s personal appearance before the ICJ to lead the defence of the military, however, shows the great stakes her country had in the case.

Effects of non-compliance for Myanmar

  • For its part, Myanmar has denied that its military or paramilitary has participated in genocide of Rohingya and it is unlikely to alter its position.
  • Provisional measures are essentially a restraining order against a state when a case is pending and can be seen as, at most, a censure.
  • Provisional orders cannot be challenged and are binding upon the state.
  • However, limitations in enforcing decisions of the ICJ are widely acknowledged by law experts.

What are these limitations?

  • As per Article 94 of the Charter of the United Nations, all member states are required to comply with decisions of the ICJ.
  • However, any action by a state can be secured only through consent of the state in international law.
  • When a state fails to comply, the Security Council has the power to impose sanctions against it and ensure compliance when international security and peace are at stake.
  • So far, the Security Council has never taken a coercive measure against any country to get an ICJ ruling implemented.
  • Even with the stepping in of the Security Council, there are several hurdles in enforcement of ICJ decisions.
  • Any one of the five permanent members of the Security Council with veto powers can block the enforcement of an ICJ decision against itself or its ally.
Real Estate Industry

Enemy Property in IndiaPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Enemy Property in India

Mains level : Disposal of such Enemy Property


  • A Group of Ministers (GoM) headed by Union Home Minister will monitor the disposal of over 9,400 enemy properties, which the government estimates is worth about Rs 1 lakh crore.
  • Two committees headed by senior officials will be set up for the disposal of immovable enemy properties vested in the Custodian of Enemy Property for India under The Enemy Property Act.

What is “Enemy Property”?

  • In the wake of the India-Pakistan wars of 1965 and 1971, there was migration of people from India to Pakistan.
  • Under the Defence of India Rules framed under The Defence of India Act, 1962, the Government of India took over the properties and companies of those who took Pakistani nationality.
  • These “enemy properties” were vested by the central government in the Custodian of Enemy Property for India.
  • The same was done for property left behind by those who went to China after the 1962 Sino-Indian war.
  • The Tashkent Declaration of January 10, 1966 included a clause that said India and Pakistan would discuss the return of the property and assets taken over by either side in connection with the conflict.
  • However, the Government of Pakistan disposed of all such properties in their country in the year 1971 itself.

How did India deal with enemy property?

  • The Enemy Property Act, enacted in 1968, provided for the continuous vesting of enemy property in the Custodian of Enemy Property for India.
  • The central government, through the Custodian, is in possession of enemy properties spread across many states in the country.
  • Some movable properties too, are categorised as enemy properties.
  • In 2017, Parliament passed The Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Bill, 2016, which amended The Enemy Property Act, 1968, and The Public Premises (Eviction of Unauthorised Occupants) Act, 1971.

Who is an Enemy?

  • The amended Act expanded the definition of the term “enemy subject”, and “enemy firm” to include the legal heir and successor of an enemy, whether a citizen of India or a citizen of a country which is not an enemy; and the succeeding firm of an enemy firm, irrespective of the nationality of its members or partners.
  • The amended law provided that enemy property shall continue to vest in the Custodian even if the enemy or enemy subject or enemy firm ceases to be an enemy due to death, extinction, winding up of business or change of nationality, or that the legal heir or successor is a citizen of India or a citizen of a country which is not an enemy.
  • The Custodian, with prior approval of the central government, may dispose of enemy properties vested in him in accordance with the provisions of the Act, and the government may issue directions to the Custodian for this purpose.

Why were these amendments brought?

  • The thrust of the amendments was to guard against claims of succession or transfer of properties left by people who migrated to Pakistan and China after the wars.
  • The amendments denied legal heirs any right over enemy property. The main aim was to negate the effect of a court judgment in this regard.

What did these court orders say?

  • One major judgment was passed in the case of the estate of the erstwhile Raja of Mahmudabad, who owned several large properties in Hazratganj, Sitapur and Nainital.
  • Following Partition, the Raja left for Iraq and stayed there for some years before settling in London.
  • After The Enemy Property Act was enacted in the year 1968, the Raja’s estate was declared enemy property. When the Raja died, his son who stayed in India staked claim to the properties.
  • After a legal battle that lasted over 30 years, an apex court Bench on October 21, 2005, ruled in favour of the son.
  • The verdict opened the floodgates for further pleas in courts across the country in which genuine or purported relatives of persons who had migrated to Pakistan produced deeds of gift claiming they were the rightful owners of enemy properties.
  • On July 2, 2010, the then UPA government promulgated an Ordinance that restrained courts from ordering the government to divest enemy properties from the Custodian.
  • The 2005 SC order was thus rendered ineffective, and the Custodian again took over the Raja’s properties.

Enactment of the Amended Law

  • A Bill was introduced in Lok Sabha on July 22, 2010, and subsequently, a revised Bill was tabled on November 15, 2010. This Bill was thereafter referred to the Standing Committee.
  • However, the said Bill could not be passed during the term of the 15th Lok Sabha, and it lapsed.
  • On January 7, 2016, the President of India promulgated The Enemy Property (Amendment and Validation) Ordinance, 2016, which was replaced by the Bill that became law in 2017.

Democracy Index 2019IOCRPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Democracy Index 2019

Mains level : Fallouts on democracy in India


 

The latest edition of the Democracy Index spells gloom for India. The world’s biggest democracy slipped 10 places in the 2019 global ranking to 51st place.

Democracy Index

  • The report is published by The Economist Intelligence Unit — the research and analysis division of The Economist Group, which is the sister company to The Economist newspaper.
  • It records how global democracy fared, analysing 165 independent states and two territories.
  • The 2019 survey attributes the primary cause of “the democratic regression” to “an erosion of civil liberties in the country”.

India’s performance

  • India’s overall score fell from 7.23 to 6.9, on a scale of 0-10, within a year (2018-2019) — the country’s lowest since 2006.
  • India was graded in electoral process and pluralism (8.67), government functioning (6.79), political participation (6.67), political culture (5.63) and civil liberties (6.76).
  • In the Asia and Australasia region, India ranks eighth, behind Taiwan and Timor-Leste.
  • The report talks about the repeal of both Article 370 and Article 35A and various restrictions such as house arrests, internet shutdowns and excessive use of forces.

India: A flawed democracy?

The Index also categorizes India under “flawed democracies”, i.e. countries that hold free and fair elections and where basic civil liberties are respected, but have significant weaknesses in aspects of democracy, such as problems in governance, an underdeveloped political culture and low levels of political participation.

Labour, Jobs and Employment – Harmonization of labour laws, gender gap, unemployment, etc.

World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2020IOCRPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2020

Mains level : Unemployment in India


The report World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2020 (WESO) was recently released.

About the Report

  • The WESO report is an initiative of the International Labour Organization (ILO).
  • ILO forecasts that unemployment will rise by about 2.5 million this year.
  • The ILO is a UN agency whose mandate is to advance social justice and promote decent work by setting international labour standards.
  • The report analyses key labour market issues, including unemployment, labour underutilization, working poverty, income inequality, labour income share and factors that exclude people from decent work.

Highlights of the report

  • Global unemployment is projected to increase by around 2.5 million in 2020.
  • The number of people unemployed around the world stands at some 188 million.
  • In addition, 165 million people do not have enough paid work, and 120 million have either given up actively searching for work or otherwise lack access to the labour market.
  • In total, more than 470 million people worldwide are affected, the report said.
  • Almost half a billion people are working fewer paid hours than they would like or lack adequate access to paid work.
  • Not enough new jobs are being generated to absorb new entrants to the labour market.

Data on working poverty

  • Currently working poverty (defined as earning less than USD 3.20 per day in purchasing power parity terms) affects more than 630 million workers, or one in five of the global working population.
  • Inequalities related to gender, age and geographical location continue to plague the job market, with the report showing that these factors limit both individual opportunity and economic growth.
  • Some 267 million young people aged 15-24 are not in employment, education or training, and many more endure substandard working condition.
Disasters and Disaster Management – Sendai Framework, Floods, Cyclones, etc.

Global Risks Report 2020IOCRPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Global Risks Report 2020

Mains level : Read the attached story


The top five risks to humanity are recently published in the Global Risks Report of the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Top five risks

  • An important finding of the report is that today’s younger generation, consisting of “Millenials” born after 1980 have ranked environmental risks higher than other older respondents in the short- and long-terms.
  • According to the report, the top five risks by likelihood over the next decade are:
  1. Extreme weather events like floods and storms
  2. Failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation
  3. Major natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and geomagnetic storms
  4. Major biodiversity losses and ecosystem collapse
  5. Human-made environmental damage and disasters

Top 5 risks by severity of impact over the next 10 years

  • Failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation
  • Weapons of mass destruction
  • Major biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse
  • Extreme weather events (e.g. floods, storms, etc.)
  • Water crises

Top most strongly connected global risks

  • Extreme weather events + failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation
  • Large-scale cyber-attacks + breakdown of critical information infrastructure and networks
  • High structural unemployment or underemployment + adverse consequences of technological advances
  • Major biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse + failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation
  • Food crises + extreme weather events

Other risks

  • The report also warned about the increasing economic and societal costs due to non-communicable diseases and the lack of research on vaccines and drug resistance to address the threat of pandemics in the recent future.
  • Economic confrontations” and “domestic political polarization” are significant short-term risks in 2020, the report said.
  • This is a warning for the global South including India and Africa where social unrest has seen a rise. For example, unrest has grown among India’s youth.
International Space Agencies – Missions and Discoveries

Thirty Metre Telescope (TMT) in HawaiiPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : TMT, Mauna Kea

Mains level : India's abroad space missions


 

India, a partner in the construction of one of the largest telescopes in the world, TMT, has said it wants the project to be moved out of the proposed site at Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano in Hawaii.

Thirty Metre Telescope

  • The TMT is a proposed astronomical observatory with an extremely large telescope (ELT) that has become the source of controversy over its planned location on Mauna Kea on the island of Hawaii in the US state of Hawaii.
  • It is being built by an international collaboration of government organisations and educational institutions, at a cost of $1.4 billion.
  • “Thirty Metre” refers to the 30-metre diameter of the mirror, with 492 segments of glass pieced together, which makes it three times as wide as the world’s largest existing visible-light telescope.
  • The larger the mirror, the more light a telescope can collect, which means, in turn, that it can “see” farther, fainter objects.
  • It would be more than 200 times more sensitive than current telescopes and would be able to resolve objects 12 times better than the Hubble Space Telescope.

Utility of the telescope

  • One of its key uses will be the study of exoplanets, many of which have been detected in the last few years, and whether their atmospheres contain water vapour or methane — the signatures of possible life.
  • For the first time in history, this telescope will be capable of detecting extraterrestrial life.
  • The study of black holes is another objective.
  • While these have been observed in detail within the Milky Way, the next galaxy is 100 times farther away; the TMT will help bring them closer.
Climate Change Impact on India and World – International Reports, Key Observations, etc.

Thawing of PermafrostMains OnlyPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Thermokarsts, Thawing of permafrost

Mains level : Impact of climate change on polar permafrost


 

A recent study makes a disturbing connection between the loss of Arctic sea ice and thawing (melting) of permafrost in the region, with global implications.

What is Permafrost?

  • ‘Permafrost’ or permanently frozen ground is land that has been frozen at or below 0 degrees Celsius for two or more consecutive years.
  • A staggering 17 per cent of Earth’s entire exposed land surface is comprised of permafrost.
  • Composed of rock, sediments, dead plant and animal matter, soil, and varying degrees of ice, permafrost is mainly found near the poles, covering parts of Greenland, Alaska, Northern Canada, Siberia and Scandinavia.
  • The Arctic region is a vast ocean, covered by thick ice on the surface (called sea ice), surrounded by land masses that are also covered with snow and ice.

Permafrost thawing

  • When permafrost thaws, water from the melted ice makes its way to the caves along with ground sediments, and deposits on the rocks.
  • In other words, when permafrost thaws, the rocks grow and when permafrost is stable and frozen, they do not grow.

Why thawing?

  • The link between the Siberian permafrost and Arctic sea ice can be explained by two factors:
  • One is heat transport from the open Arctic Ocean into Siberia, making the Siberian climate warmer.
  • The second is moisture transport from open seawater into Siberia, leading to thicker snow cover that insulates the ground from cold winter air, contributing to its warming.
  • This is drastically different from the situation just a couple of decades ago when the sea ice acted as a protective layer, maintaining cold temperatures in the region and shielding the permafrost from the moisture from the ocean.
  • If sea ice (in the summer) is gone, permafrost start thawing.

Impact on Climate Change

  • Due to relentlessly rising temperatures in the region, since the late-twentieth century, the Arctic sea ice and surrounding land ice are melting at accelerating rates.
  • When permafrost thaws due to rising temperatures, the microbes in the soil decompose the dead organic matter (plants and animals) to produce methane (CH4) and carbon dioxide (CO2), both potent greenhouse gases.
  • CH4 is at least 80 times more powerful than CO2 on a decadal timescale and around 25 times more powerful on a century timescale.
  • The greenhouse gases produced from thawing permafrost will further increase temperatures which will, in turn, lead to more permafrost thawing, forming an unstoppable and irreversible self-reinforcing feedback loop.
  • Experts believe this process may have already begun. Giant craters and ponds of water (called ‘thermokarst lakes’) formed due to thawing have been recorded in the Arctic region. Some are so big that they can be seen from space.

Why a matter of concern?

  • An estimated 1,700 billion tonnes — twice the amount currently present in the atmosphere — of carbon is locked in all of the world’s permafrost.
  • Even if half of that were to be released to the atmosphere, it would be game over for the climate.
  • Scientific estimates suggest that the Arctic Ocean could be largely sea ice-free in the summer months by as early as 2030, based on observational trends, or as late as 2050, based on climate model projections.
Judicial Reforms

UAE declared ‘Reciprocating Territory’ by IndiaPriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Reciprocating Territory

Mains level : Reciprocating Territory


Recently, the Ministry of Law and Justice issued an Extraordinary Gazette Notification, declaring the UAE to be a “reciprocating territory” under Section 44A of the Civil Procedure Code, 1908. The notification also declared a list of courts in the UAE to be “superior Courts” under the same section.

What is a ‘Reciprocating Territory’ ?

  • Essentially, orders passed by certain designated courts from a ‘reciprocating territory’ can be implemented in India, by filing a copy of the decree concerned in a District Court here.
  • The courts so designated are called ‘superior Courts’.

What does Section 44 of the CPC say?

Section 44A, titled “Execution of decrees passed by Courts in reciprocating territory”, provides the law on the subject of execution of decrees of Courts in India by foreign Courts and vice versa.

Under Explanation 1 of S. 44A:

  • “Reciprocating territory” means any country or territory outside India which the Central Government may, by notification in the Official Gazette, declare to be a reciprocating territory for the purposes of this section; and “superior Courts”, with reference to any such territory, means such Courts as may be specified in the said notification.”
  • 44A (1) provides that a decree passed by “a superior Court” in any “reciprocating territory” can be executed in India by filing a certified copy of the decree in a District Court, which will treat the decree as if it has been passed by itself.
  • According to Explanation-2, the scope of the Section is restricted to decrees for payment of money, not being sums payable “in respect of taxes or other charges of a like nature or in respect of a fine or other penalty”.
  • It also cannot be based on an arbitration award, even if such an award is enforceable as a decree or judgment.

Other countries with such status

  • Apart from Dubai, the other countries declared to be “reciprocating territories” are: United Kingdom, Singapore, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Trinidad & Tobago, New Zealand, the Cook Islands (including Niue) and the Trust Territories of Western Samoa, Hong Kong, Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Aden.

Why such move?

  • The notification was the only remaining part of a 1999 agreement between the UAE and India related to cooperation in civil and commercial matters.
  • The decision is believed to help bring down the time required for executing decrees between the two countries.
  • With this, Indian expatriates in the UAE would no longer be able to seek safe haven in their home country if they are convicted in a civil case in the UAE.
Foreign Policy Watch: India-Pakistan

India-Pakistan TradePriority 1

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not Much

Mains level : Cross LoC trade


Tensions between India and Pakistan in 2019 have reduced the already low volumes of trade between the two countries to near zero.

India-Pakistan trade, in the beginning

  • In 1948-49, about 56% of Pakistan’s exports were to India, and 32% of its imports came from India.
  • From 1948-65, India and Pakistan used a number of land routes for bilateral trade; there were eight customs stations in Pakistan’s Punjab province and three customs checkpoints in Sindh.
  • India remained Pakistan’s largest trading partner until 1955-56. Between 1947 and 1965, the countries signed 14 bilateral agreements on trade, covering avoidance of double taxation, air services, and banking, etc.
  • In 1965, nine branches of six Indian banks were operating in Pakistan.

Close to vanishing

  • Following the terrorist attack on the CRPF convoy in Pulwama in February, India withdrew Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status for Pakistan and raised customs duty on Pakistani imports to 200% .
  • In April, India suspended cross-LoC trade to stop the misuse of this route by Pakistan-based elements.
  • Pakistan on its part closed its airspace to India for a prolonged period.
  • The decisions by both countries, while targeted at hurting the neighbour, have severely impacted the livelihoods of individuals and families involved in cross-border trading activities.