THE SOCIAL ISSUES
1. THE BATTLE OVER MINING IN CHHATTISGARH’S HASDEO FOREST
THE CONTEXT: The state government had in March given a go-head for coal mining in an area of 1,136 hectares under the second phase of Parsa East-Kete Basan (PEKB) coal block.
- The state government had in March given a go-head for coal mining in an area of 1,136 hectares under the second phase of the Parsa East-Kete Basan (PEKB) coal block.
- A sprawling forest in the northern part of Chhattisgarh, Hasdeo Arand is known for its biodiversity and also its coal deposits. The forest falls under Korba, Sujapur and Sarguja districts with sizeable tribal populations. The Hasdeo river, a tributary of Mahanadi, flows through it.
Released in 2021, a report on the region by the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education (ICFRE), an autonomous organisation under the Ministry of Environment, Forest & Climate Change, termed Hasdeo Arand the “largest un-fragmented forests in Central India consisting of pristine Sal (Shorearobusta) and teak forests.”
- The Hasdeo Arand Coal Field (HACF) is spread over nearly 1,880 sq km and comprises 23 coal blocks. The demand for mining picked up around 2010, when the Chhattisgarh government recommended forest clearance for diverting 1,898.328 hectares of forest land for Parsa East and Kente Basan (PEKB) coal fields. These were allotted to Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Limited (RRVUNL).
- The PEKB coal block is run by Adani Enterprises, the official Mine Developer and Operator in this venture.
- However, this first move was followed by multiple court orders, forest assessment reports, and protests by forest-dwellers.
- In June 2011, the Forest Advisory Committee of the Environment ministry recommended against diverting the forest land for mining. The then Environment Minister, the Congress party’s Jairam Ramesh, overruled this decision, saying coal mining will be done in an area away from the dense forests.
- In 2012, Forest Clearance was granted by the MoEF for mining in phase I of PEKB coal mines, which limited mining to 762 hectares and a reserve of 137 million tonnes.
- In March, the Chhattisgarh government said that it has given permission to Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam for coal mining in an area of 1,136 hectares under the second phase of PEKB coal block.
- As of May 2022, two studies by the ICFRE and Wildlife Institute of India (WII) have come out. Both have underlined the importance of biodiversity in the region that mining will undoubtedly affect. They also address the issue of human-elephant conflicts, noting that while Chhattisgarh has less elephants compared to other states, it accounts for a significant percentage of conflict due to habitat loss or clearing of forests. Further deforestation could lead to elephant movements spilling over to urban areas, these studies have noted.
- The ICFRE also noted the loss of the natural environment and the “serious impact on the community in form of loss of livelihood, identity, and culture” with regards to tribal people living in the area, if mining were to be allowed. But it backed considering mining in four blocks: Tara, Parsa, PEKB and Kente Extension with “strict environmental safeguards”. It further said that the PEKB block was a “habitat to rare, endangered and threatened flora and fauna”.
- Though cases are pending in various courts and a further study has been suggested by even the ICFRE, in March 2022 the Chhattisgarh government approved the second phase of mining in PEKB coal block.
THE POLITY AND GOVERNANCE
2. RESERVATION IN PUBLIC EMPLOYMENT
THE CONTEXT: The jurisprudence of reservation relies on the symbiotic coexistence of constitutionally guaranteed equality of opportunity in public employment under Article 16 (1) of the Constitution of India and classifications thereunder various clauses of the same article, especially Article 16(4) and Article 16 (4 A), which are in the nature of facilitating provisions, vesting a discretion on the government to consider providing reservations for the socially and educationally backward sections of the society and to provide reservation in promotion to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, respectively.
- It is settled law, time and again reiterated by the Supreme Court, that there is no fundamental right to reservation or promotion under Article 16(4) or Article 16(4 A) of the Constitution, rather they are enabling provisions for providing reservation, if the circumstances so warrant ( Mukesh Kumar and Another vs State of Uttarakhand &Ors. 2020).
- However, these pronouncements no way understate the constitutional directive under Article 46 that mandates that the state shall promote with special care the educational and economic interests of the weaker sections of the people and in particular Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
- In fact, the sensitivity of the welfare state towards the weaker sections over decades resulted in the gradual expansion of canopy of reservation in the form of increasing classifications under Article 16, a set of actions that created a wave of litigation by which resulted in the ever-evolving jurisprudence of affirmative action in public employment.
- Reservation in employment which was otherwise confined to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes got extended to Other Backward Classes as well on the basis of the recommendations of the Second Backward Class Commission as constituted, headed by B.P. Mandal.
- The recommendation of the Mandal Commission (1980) to provide 27% reservation to Other Backward Classes in central services and public sector undertakings, over and above the existing 22.5% reservation for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, was sought to be implemented by the V.P. Singh Government in 1990 and the same was assailed in the Supreme Court resulting in the historic Indra Sawhney Judgment (1992). In the judgment, a nine-judge bench presided by Chief Justice M.H. Kania upheld the constitutionality of the 27% reservation but put a ceiling of 50% unless exceptional circumstances warranting the breach, so that the constitutionally guaranteed right to equality under Article 14 would remain secured.
- The Court dwelled on the interrelationship between Articles 16(1) and 16(4) and declared that Article 16(4) is not an exception to article 16(1), rather an illustration of classification implicit in article 16(1).
- While Article 16(1) is a fundamental right, Article 16(4) is an enabling provision. Further, the Court directed the exclusion of the creamy layer by way of horizontal division of every other backward class into creamy layer and non-creamy layer.
- In Indra Sawhney Case, the Supreme Court had held that Article 16(4) of the Constitution of India does not authorise reservation in the matter of promotions. However, the judgment was not to affect the promotions already made and hence only prospective in operation, it was ruled.
- By the Constitution (Seventy-seventh Amendment) Act, 1995, which, Article 16(4-A), was inserted to provide that “nothing in this article shall prevent the State from making any provision for reservation in matters of promotion to any class or classes of posts in the services under the State in favour of the Scheduled Castes and the Scheduled Tribes which, in the opinion of the State, are not adequately represented in the services under the State”.
- Later, two more amendments were brought, one to ensure consequential seniority and another to secure carry forward of unfilled vacancies of a year, the former by way of addition to Article 16(4 A) and the latter by way of adding Article 16(4 B).
- A five-judge bench of the Supreme Court declared the 1995 amendment as not vocative of basic structure of the Constitution but laid down certain conditions which included the collection of “quantifiable data showing backwardness of the class and inadequacy of representation of that class in public employment”. . The bench held that the creamy layer among Scheduled castes and tribes is to be excluded from the reservation.
- In the aforementioned case, a constitution bench of the Supreme Court was called on to examine the wisdom of the 2006 judgment in the light of the constitutionally recognised socio-economic backwardness of the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes which may not require any further substantiation. It was also contended that the requirement to identify creamy lawyer among Scheduled Castes and Scheduled tribes fell foul of Indra Sawhney’s decision.
- The constitution bench invalidated the requirement to collect quantifiable data in relation to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes but upheld the principle of applicability of creamy lawyer in relation to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes. Jarnail Singh judgment authored by Justice Rohinton Nariman indicates a critical turn in the jurisprudence of reservation.
- The 10% reservation for Economically Weaker Sections (EWS), other Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes and backward classes for government jobs and admission in educational institutions is currently under challenge before the Supreme Court which has referred the same to a constitution bench.
- The adjudication awaited in this regard may also turn to be a critical milestone in the jurisprudence of reservation as the traditional understanding of backwardness is broadened to specifically include economic backwardness without social backwardness as is traditionally seen.
- Despite the Indra Sawhney ruling, there have been attempts on the part of many States to breach the rule by way of expanding the reservation coverage and Maharashtra Socially and Educationally Backward Classes Act 2018, (Maratha reservation law) came under challenge before the Supreme Court which referred the same to a bench of five judges and one question was whether the 1992 judgment needs a relook.
- Interestingly, the Supreme Court not only affirmed the Indra Sawhney decision but also struck down Section 4(1)(a) and Section 4(1)(b) of the Act which provided 12% reservation for Marathas in educational institutions and 13% reservation in public employment respectively, citing the breach of the ceiling. “The 2018 Act as amended in 2019 granting reservation for Maratha community does not make out any exceptional circumstance to exceed the ceiling limit of 50% reservation,”, declared the apex Court.
- This judgment is likely to rein in the propensity on the part of some State governments to blatantly disregard the stipulated ceiling on electoral grounds rather than any exceptional circumstances as conceived by the constitution bench. It is pertinent to note that several States such as Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh had made submissions before the Supreme Court against any upper limit on the reservation.
3. ABSOLUTION: ON NEED TO COMPENSATE FOR UNLAWFUL ARRESTS
THE CONTEXT: India needs a law to make compensation for unlawful arrest a statutory right
- Shoddy investigation is one thing, but a malicious and motivated probe is quite another. The probe conducted by former Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) official Sameer Wankhede into a purported tip-off about the consumption of drugs on board a cruise ship, in October 2021, seems to fall in the latter category.
- The raid on the vessel resulted in seizure of narcotic substances and the arrest of several people, including Aryan Khan, son of Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan. Even though nothing was seized from Mr. Khan, the agency made sensational claims in court about his being part of an international drug trafficking network and, quite strangely, cited messages purportedly exchanged on WhatsApp as ‘evidence’. By the time he obtained bail weeks later, the case had all the makings of a witch-hunt.
- A special investigation team from Delhi, which took over the case after allegations of extortion surfaced against Mr. Wankhede, has now cited lapses in the initial investigation and the lack of prosecutable evidence, and absolved Mr. Khan and five others and excluded them from the charge sheet filed recently. The lapses include failure to video-graph the search of the ship, not conducting a medical examination to prove consumption, and examining Mr. Khan’s phone and reading messages on it without any legal basis.
- It is good that the agency made amends for the mischief done by the initial set of investigators by applying the standard of ‘proof beyond reasonable doubt’ while presenting its final report. At the same time, the NCB has to re-examine its priorities. It is an elite agency in the fight against international trafficking in narcotic and psychotropic substances.
- Its primary focus ought to be on trans-national smuggling networks, while the job of pursuing drug peddlers and raiding rave parties must be left to the local police. While strict disciplinary action is warranted if any officer is found involved in ‘fixing’ someone, it is also time that the Government came out with a legal framework for compensating those jailed without proof. The country does not have a law on the grant of compensation to those maliciously prosecuted.
- However, constitutional courts do exercise their vast powers sometimes to award monetary recompense; the remedy of a civil suit is also available in law, but it is time-consuming. The Law Commission of India has recommended the enactment of a law to make compensation in such cases an enforceable right. Currently, Section 358 of the Cr.P.C. provides for a paltry fine to be imposed on a person on whose complaint a person is arrested without sufficient grounds.
- Such provisions should be expanded to cover just compensation by the state for unnecessary arrests. It is a sobering thought to note that even people with celebrity status and vast resources are not insulated from the misuse of police powers, even while recognising that it is still possible to vindicate one’s innocence and force the establishment to adopt a course correction.
THE INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
4. DEEPENING STRATEGIC COMMITMENT
THE CONTEXT: The Quad (the U.S., India, Japan and Australia) held its second in-person leaders’ summit in Tokyo on May 24. It has emerged stronger and clearer in its strategy and goals for the security and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific. The efforts by the Quad countries should be viewed not only from the prism of the summits but also from the wider context of international developments and the continuing process of consolidation of the bilateral relations within, especially U.S.-India ties.
- This is the second interaction of the Quad leaders held after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. That war has no end in sight. With India abstaining from most anti-Russia voting in multilateral bodies, experts in India worried about the impact of Ukraine on the Indo-Pacific region, particularly U.S.-India ties. Some feared that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would face new and intense pressure in Tokyo from the U.S. to condemn Russia. Others argued that the U.S. understood India’s nuanced position on Ukraine and may refocus on China’s strategic game in the region.
- The latter interpretation proved correct. India and the U.S. agreed to disagree on Ukraine but showed full readiness to further strengthen the Quad and their bilateral cooperation, which, U.S. President Joe Biden said, he was “committed to making…among the closest we have on Earth.”
- With China, he has moved beyond the traditional U.S. stance of ‘strategic ambiguity’ and pointedly referred to Ukraine to stress that China’s armed action against Taiwan would be unacceptable and attract a military response.
- The central driving force of the Quad is to counter China’s growing expansionism and belligerence. The grouping’s diplomatic device of defining its raison d’être without ever using the word ‘China’ was best reflected in the ‘Quad Joint Leaders’ Statement’ which reads, “We reaffirm our resolve to uphold the international rules-based order where countries are free from all forms of military, economic and political coercion.”
- Thus, China is not only the glue that holds the Quad together; it is also the fuel that may, through Beijing’s bad behaviour in the future, drive the grouping’s inner consolidation, as shown by an expanding agenda.
- The Quad agenda now covers nine sectors: vaccine partnership and health security, climate action, critical and emerging technologies, cooperation on infrastructure, cyber security, space cooperation, education and people-to-people ties, maritime domain awareness, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief. The Quad claims to have established “a positive and practical agenda” in year one; in year two, it will focus on “delivery.” This needs to be watched.
- Not all commitments have been met. The promise of making available at least one billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to Indo-Pacific countries has fallen short. Excluding what the Quad countries contributed to COVAX, just 25% have been delivered to the region so far.
- This needs to be expanded rapidly. Meanwhile, Quad experts have begun planning ways to enhance capacity for early detection and monitoring of “new and emerging pathogens with pandemic potential.”
- On infrastructure, a new commitment was made at Tokyo for the Quad to extend over $50 billion in investment and assistance to the Indo-Pacific countries over the next five years. While the focus is on the ASEAN countries and the Pacific Island States, a part of this funding should perhaps reach the Indian Ocean region too, with its touch points in Africa.
- The Common Statement of Principles on Critical Technology Supply Chains is significant, as it concerns cooperation on semiconductors.
- The atmospherics of the summit improved significantly after the launch of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) a day earlier. The joint announcement was made by the Quad, seven ASEAN member-states (excluding Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos), South Korea and New Zealand.
- The plan is to prepare their economies for the future by conducting negotiations on the pillars of trade; supply chains; tax and anti-corruption and clean energy; decar bonisation and infrastructure. The IPEF is ambitious, but doable.
- India’s constructive participation in the Tokyo summit and agreement to join IPEF demonstrated commitment to strengthening its strategic partnerships in order to push back China’s dominance. At the same time, New Delhi has agreed to the expansion of BRICS membership. This simultaneous engagement with the Quad and BRICS is New Delhi’s strategic autonomy in full play.
- India’s presidency of the G20 in 2023 and the likelihood of India hosting the Quad summit in 2024 will ensure that it follows a calibrated policy and stays on track, as every major step will attract international attention.
THE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
5. ECONOMY FACING STAGFLATION
THE CONTEXT: The Government, worried about the inflation rapidly inching up month after month, has finally become proactive. The steps announced are designed to lower the prices of basics like diesel, steel, cement and plastics. Wholesale Price Index (‘WPI’) has risen at more than ten percent for more than a year, and in April 2022, it was at 15.08 percent – a level not seen in more than a decade. Consumer Price Index (‘CPI’) has risen 7.8 percent, well above the Reserve Bank of India (‘RBI’)’s target of four percent plus-minus two percent for the fourth consecutive month.
- Inflation is high whichever measure we take. The CPI reflects the impact of inflation on the citizen’s budget. If it is higher than the increase in incomes, wages and salaries of people, then their standard of living declines. The WPI is what the producers take into account in their cost of production.
- That in turn determines the price of their product and the profits they earn. Rising WPI sooner or later translates to higher consumer prices, which have been moderated of late by the decline in the wage bill and interest costs. That is why the CPI has lagged considerably behind the WPI for some time.
- The April 2022 data shows that the increase in CPI is accelerating. It is much higher (7.8 percent) than its level in April 2021 (4.2 percent). Also, it is substantially above March 2022, at about 20 percent at an annualized rate. This has given momentum to the rising rate of inflation measured by CPI, and it is likely to continue to rise in the coming months. The government is trying to check this.
- The situation is aggravated by the slowing down of the world economy due to the war in Ukraine and lockdowns in China. They are causing increased supply disruptions and shortages of various critical inputs like energy, fertilizer, metals, computer chips, manufactured products, wheat and soybean.
- Consequently, prices are not only rising; India’s current account deficit has rapidly increased, thereby weakening the rupee against the dollar, though not against other major currencies. Since trade is denominated in dollars, it has meant that all imported items, including energy, become more expensive in India and inflation kicks up.
- Including the unorganized sectors, production, employment and investment have not recovered to the pre-pandemic levels. The economy has recouped only a part of the pandemic hit production in 2020-21.
- Not only is the economy below the pre-pandemic level: if undisturbed by the pandemic, it would have continued to grow at about four percent; thereby in 2021-22, it would have been higher than its level in 2019-20 by more than eight per cent (not the official 1.7 per cent).
- So, at best, one can say the economy is stagnant. Combined with the accelerating inflation, the implication is that the economy is in stagflation. This has serious implications for the economy and especially for the marginalized sections. For them, a reduction in the rate of inflation is not enough, given their stagnant or declining incomes.
- It puts policy makers in a fix. If, to control inflation, they try to reduce demand, then the economy slows down. If they try to boost growth, then inflation may rise. The delicate solution lies in eliminating supply bottlenecks without curtailing demand.
- The RBI raised the cash reserve ratio to reduce liquidity, and raised interest rates to reduce demand. However, these do not address the reasons for rising inflation, which are: supply bottlenecks in India and abroad, the war in Ukraine and consequent shortages, the lockdown in China, the increased pricing power of corporates, closure of units in small and micro sectors in India and increase in global freight charges. Presently, when consumption has not yet recovered and demand is short, an increase in interest rates will only reduce investment, employment and incomes – worsening stagflation.
- It is for government to address supply bottlenecks, check speculation and reduce indirect taxes to lower inflation. Units that have closed down need to be helped to revive. Direct tax collections have to be increased so that the indirect taxes can be cut without driving up the fiscal deficit in the budget. Specific steps for doing this have been suggested many times recently. The budget needs to be redrawn since expenditures will rise with inflation (through, for instance, the subsidy bill) while revenue buoyancy will decline due to slowdown in the economy.
- In brief, the economy faces stagflation, to tackle which government, rather than the RBI, needed to act; the steps announced are a start. More needs to be done to eliminate supply bottlenecks without curtailing demand.
6. WHAT IS THE WEST NILE VIRUS, HOW DOES IT SPREAD?
THE CONTEXT: The Kerala health department is on alert after the death of a 47-year-old from Thrissur due to the West Nile Virus. Earlier in 2019, a six-year-old boy in Malappuram district had died of the same infection. The virus was first reported in the state in Alappuzha in 2006 and then in Ernakulam in 2011.
- The West Nile Virus is a mosquito-borne, single-stranded RNA virus. According to the WHO, it is “a member of the flavivirus genus and belongs to the Japanese Encephalitis antigenic complex of the family Flaviviridae”. Culex species of mosquitoes act as the principal vectors for transmission. It is transmitted by infected mosquitoes between and among humans and animals, including birds, which are the reservoir host of the virus.
- WNV can also spread through blood transfusion, from an infected mother to her child, or through exposure to the virus in laboratories. It is not known to spread by contact with infected humans or animals.
- According to the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it does not spread “through eating infected animals, including birds. Always follow instructions for fully cooking meat”.
- To date, no human-to-human transmission of WNV through casual contact has been documented, says the WHO.
- The disease is asymptomatic in 80% of the infected people. The rest develop what is called the West Nile fever or severe West Nile disease. In these 20% cases, the symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, body aches, nausea, rash, and swollen glands.
- The virus was first isolated in a woman in the West Nile district of Uganda in 1937. It was identified in birds (crows and columbiformes like doves and pigeons) in the Nile delta region in 1953. Before 1997, WNV was not considered pathogenic for birds, but then, a more virulent strain caused the death in Israel of different bird species, presenting signs of encephalitis and paralysis.
- In 1999, a WMV strain, believed to be one circulating in Israel and Tunisia, reached New York producing a large outbreak that spread across the United States and eventually across the Americas, from Canada to Venezuela.
- According to the WHO, human infections attributable to WNV have been reported in many countries in the world for over 50 years.
- WNV outbreak sites are found along major bird migratory routes.
- Today, the virus is found commonly in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, North America, and West Asia.
THE PRELIMS PRACTICE QUESTIONS
QUESTION FOR 30TH MAY 2022
Q1.Consider the following statements about India’s external trade in 2021-22:
- U.S. surpassed China to become India’s top trading partner.
- Exports to U.S. from India are higher than exports to China.
- Imports from China to India are higher than imports from U.S.
Which of the statements given above is/are correct?
a) 1 only
b) 1 and 2 only
c) 2 and 3 only
d) 1, 2 and 3
ANSWER FOR THE 28th MAY
- The Sela Pass is the high-altitude mountain pass located in Tawang District. It has an elevation of 4170 m (13,700 ft) connects the Buddhist city of Tawang Town to Tezpur and Guwahati and is the main road connecting Tawang with the rest of India.
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