Daily Current Affairs for UPSC IAS | 23rd December 2021

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1.  As a regional leader, not a victim of circumstance

UPSC Syllabus: Mains – GS Paper II- International Relations
Sub Theme:  India’s Foreign Policy | Afghanistan and China | UPSC

Issues in handling the Afghan Issue 

  • India failed to recognize the direction in which the US policy was headed. India had insisted that it was on the same page with the US on the Afghan issue.
  • However, the events that unfolded were clearly not on the same lines.
  • US sided with Troika-Plus and did not involve India.
  • Further India is not supporting its friends in Afghanistan. Ex – Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF)
  • It is not supporting the minority communities like Hazaras, Tajiks, Ahmadis etc.
  • Cancelled Visas cleared before August 2021.
  • India has been indifferent to the resistance forces in Afghanistan. It has tried to stay away from any type of counter Taliban group. It is in contrast to India’s strategy in 1990s when India supported resisting forces like – Northern Alliance etc.
  • The present stance is likely to impact India’s image in Afghanistan in the long run.

Issues in dealing with China 

  • Satellite images show that there is heavy build-up of PLA and infrastructure development along the LAC.  China has built villages and settled people in these areas.
  • However the government has been reluctant to acknowledge these developments.

Dealing with China 

  • India needs to be more Vocal against Chinese assertion. At the same time it needs to provide leadership in the region to outpower China.
  • India needs to focus on filling the gaps that exist so as to stop China from taking advantage of the situation. Ex – India did not keep its commitments in providing vaccines to Nepal, Bhutan and Maldives in the neighbourhood.
  • For countering Chinese authoritarianism, India needs to show its commitments to – Pluralism, inclusive power that respects the rights of each citizen, the media, and civil society.
  • Promoting leadership in the neighbourhood in the region. India’s collaboration with US, Japan etc are not popular with its neighbours.
  • They are seen as “anti-China” rival platforms, which these countries would want to avoid.
  • These partnerships also hamper India’s ability to stand up for its neighbours when required
  • Ex – U.S. slapped sanctions on Bangladesh’s multi-agency anti-terror Rapid Action Battalion (RAB). India did not take a stand on this issue.

2.  Looking beyond the Forest Rights Act

UPSC Syllabus: Mains – GS Paper II- Issues related to vulnerable sections

Sub Theme:  FRA, 2006 | UPSC

Need for the law:

Traditionally the tribes shared a symbiotic relationship with the forests since time immemorial. They not only depend on forests for their livelihoods (food, fuel, fodder and fibre) but they also conserved them as they share religious and cultural sentiments with the forests (ex: sacred groves)

However, this symbiotic relation was broken with multiple laws

  • India Forests act (1927) gave the state jurisdiction over forests and facilitates extraction of forest produce for profit. This act prohibited grazing, tree felling and hunting activities.
  • Forest conservation act (1980) was enacted for the purpose of conserving forests but it barred converting forest lands for non-forest purpose including traditional agricultural practices of tribes
  • Wildlife protection act (1972) created protected networks for the conservation of biodiversity, which not only restricted activities like grazing and agriculture but also pushed tribal settlements out of the core forest areas

Apart from these laws, developmental activities and Intrusion of money lenders resulted in land alienation.

Thus, The Forest Rights Act (FRA), 2006 was enacted to recognizes the rights of the forest dwelling tribal communities and other traditional forest dwellers to forest resources, on which these communities were dependent for a variety of needs, including livelihood, habitation and other socio-cultural needs.

Major features of the Act:

  • Intended beneficiaries– Forest Dwelling Scheduled Tribes (FDST) and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (OTFD)who have been residing in such forests for generations.
  • land rights: It gives FDST and OTFD the right to ownership to land farmed by tribals or forest dwellers subject to a maximum of 4 hectares. Ownership is only for land that is actually being cultivated by the concerned family and no new lands will be granted.
  • Usage rights: The rights of the dwellers extend to extracting Minor Forest Produce, grazing areas, to pastoralist routes, etc
  • Conservation rights: The act provides for rights and power for the conservation and protection of the community forests. (Which was earlier the sole responsibility of the forest departments)
  • Relief and development rights: To rehabilitation in case of illegal eviction or forced displacement and to basic amenities, subject to restrictions for forest protection.

Procedure to recognise rights:

Forest rights committee comprising of members of Gram sabha makes claims for land and usage rights through a resolution
Sub division level committee examine resolution and maps of GS to ascertain the veracity of the claims.
District level committee considers and finally approve the claims and record of forest rights prepared by the SDLC

However, FRA couldn’t secure the livelihoods of the tribes for the following reasons:

  • Faulty implementation of the law:
  • High rate of rejection of the claims made by the gram Sabha
  • Avoiding Gramsabha– The act requires constitution of a Forest Rights Committee comprising members from within the village by conducting a Gram Sabha with two-thirds of the members present at the meeting. But these committees were mostly constituted by the Panchayat Secretaries with out the presence of gramsabha members
  • Lack of technical know how of the Gramsabha to conduct a scientific survey of their individual and community land claims.
  • Lack of awareness due to poor literacy levels of tribes resulted in  forest bureaucracy misinterpreting the FRA as an instrument to regularize encroachment instead of a welfare measure for tribals.
  • Reluctance of the forest bureaucracy to give up control: The forest bureaucracy fears that it will lose the enormous power over land and people that it currently enjoys, while the corporates fear they may lose the cheap access to valuable natural resources.
  • Uneconomic land holdings:

The extent of land that was awarded was far smaller than what was claimed within the ceiling. The land parcels are often of poor quality (located on hilly slopes) and are not very fertile.

    • Lack of Market Integration and exploitation of middlemen in selling MFP
  • Lack of coverage of govt welfare schemes:

various welfare and developmental schemes of the Rural Department like MGNREGA, Deendayal gram Jyoti yojana, were not extended everywhere to the tribal people who received documents of land possession under the FRA despite the directives issued by the Ministry to treat them on a par with others.

  • Lack of alternate employment opportunities due to low literacy levels. According to 2011 census, literacy rate of STs is around 59% which is way below the literacy rate of total population (73%).

Way forward:

FRA is not a panacea to address all the livelihood issues of tribes. It is also important to provide alternative employment opportunities and capacity building

    • Promote horticulture: Livelihoods of the locals would improve if horticulture practices are promoted in addition to bamboo and aloe vera plantations with an assured market.
  • Medical and ecotourism will help in providing sustainable employment opportunities.
  • providing skill-based education with assured jobs on a large scale in proportion to the demand.
  • Compulsory implementation of rural development programmes: all the rural development (RD) schemes that are available to the farmers belonging to the revenue villages should also be extended to the tribals living in the forest villages.
  • Compulsory provision of primary education in mother tongue to increase literacy levels

 

3.  Fishermen in Rameswaram warn of rail roko from Jan. 1

UPSC Syllabus: Mains – GS Paper II- International Relations
Sub Theme:  India – Sri Lanka | UPSC

India – Sri Lanka

Significance of Sri Lanka to India

  • Trade and Investment: 
    • Sri Lanka is one of India’s largest trading partners in South Asia. India in turn is Sri Lanka’s largest trade partner globally. Exports from India to Sri Lanka in 2016 were US$ 3.83 billion.
    • Sri Lanka also provides investment opportunities for Indian Infrastructure companies. E.g., Colombo port west terminal project.
    • India and Sri Lanka have entered into a Free trade agreement in 2000. The two countries are negotiating Economic and Technology Co-operation Agreement (ETCA). 
  • Connectivity: Transhipment ports of Sri Lankan like Colombo and Hambantota handle huge cargo that comes to India, since India did not fully develop a transhipment port in the southern Coast.
  • Tourism: Huge scope for religious tourism (Buddhist tourism) and medical tourism (Sri Lankan patients frequently visit Chennai for medical treatment)
  • Strategic: 
    • India and Sri Lanka share membership in SAARCBIMSTEC and IORA
    • Sri Lanka is also important for India in its ambitions to become Net security provider in Indian ocean
    • Pursuing Strong ties with Sri Lanka is an integral part of India’s Neighbourhood first policy

Challenging issues in the relationship

  • Ethnic issues: The long drawn ethnic conflicts and human rights violation of Tamils, lack of proper rehabilitation and insufficient devolution of powers (Under 13th Amendment act) to the northern Tamil provinces strained the relation between the two countries.
  • UNHRC resolution: India voted against Sri Lanka in UNHRC resolutions in the past (2012 & 2013).
  • Fishermen issues: Sri Lankan fishermen object to Indians using bottom trawlers and fishing illegally along their coast, which often leads to arrests of the Indians. The dispute status of Katchatheevu islands is still not resolved.
  • Growing trust deficit
    • Scrapping of Indian infrastructure projects like Colombo east container terminal project at a time when China is increasing its investments in the same Colombo port city
    • India’s passive response to Sri Lanka’s request for debt repayment waiver for 3 years and a separate currency swap for $1 billion to help with economic crisis
  • China factor
    • Recently, Sri Lanka gave approval to Chinese funded ‘Colombo port city’ with some autonomy.
    • Already, China developed the Hambantota port which was later leased to it for a period of 99 years.
    • Sri Lanka also endorsed Belt and Road initiative of China.

This increased presence of China in Sri Lanka is a cause of concern to India

  • Sri – Lanka – Pakistan – China – Pakistani PM visited Sri lanka recently. Both the nations have had good defence ties.
  • concerns have been raised by India, about a convergence of interests between Sri Lanka, China, and Pakistan in the Indian Ocean region and in defence co-operation.
  • In 2016, India put pressure on Sri Lanka to drop a plan to buy the Chinese JF-17 Thunder aircraft made in Pakistan’s Kamra Aeronautical Complex, and co-produced by the Chinese Chengdu Aircraft Corporation.

India’s vote at resolutions on Sri Lanka at UNHRC

Year Resolution India’s Vote
2009 Resolution S 11/1 Yes
2012 Resolution 19/2 Yes
2013 Resolution 22/1 Yes
2014 Resolution 25/1 Abstain
2015 Resolution 30/1 Adopted without a vote
2017 Resolution 34/1 Adopted without a vote
2019 Resolution 40/1 Adopted without a vote
2021 Resolution 40/L1 Abstain
  • Initial Votes by India in favour of the resolutions and against Sri Lanka were mainly based on the local politics in the State of Tamil Nadu owing to the coalition government the Center.
  • On the 2013 resolution 22/1 India voted in favour of the resolution and against Sri Lanka. This was mainly because Just ahead of the vote, Tamil Nadu’s main opposition party, Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), had withdrawn from the Centre’s ruling alliance on the grounds that India was not doing enough to alleviate the alleged human rights violations of Sri Lankan Tamils.
  • However, after the coalition era ended at the central government level, India’s stance has not been much influenced by the local politics but has been influenced by geopolitical concerns owing to the increasing Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean region.
  • On 2014 resolution 25/1, India abstained during the vote on grounds that the resolution ignored steps taken by Sri Lanka at reconciliation.
  • In 2015 Resolution 30/1 and subsequent resolutions 34/1 and 40/1, India did not have dilemma because Sri Lanka itself joined the resolution which was adopted unanimously without a vote.
  • In 2021 resolution India abstained from voting.
  • India’s position rested on two pillars. The first was support for Sri Lanka’s unity and territorial integrity. Second pillar was commitment to Sri Lankan Tamils’ aspirations for “equality, justice, peace and dignity”.
  • Calling on Sri Lanka to address Tamil aspirations, India said that Colombo should take “necessary steps” through the “process of reconciliation and full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka

Container terminal issue 

  • Sri Lanka  will develop the West Container Terminal (WCT) at the Colombo Port, along with India and Japan. The decision came a month after the Rajapaksa government rejected the two partners from a 2019 tripartite agreement to jointly develop the East Container Terminal (ECT), citing resistance to “foreign involvement”.
  • signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with India and Japan to jointly develop and operate the East Container Terminal wherein India and Japan together were to hold 49% stake in ECT. However, then the opposition parties in Sri Lanka opposed the Indian Involvement in the construction of the port.

The Importance of India having a terminal at Colombo port

  • This port was considered to be strategic for India since it was adjacent to the Chinese-run Colombo International Container Terminal (CICT).
  • More than two-thirds of trans-shipment at this port is tied to India, making it an important trade and connectivity link.
  • As a joint venture for India and Japan to invest in, the ECT project was also expected to showcase how the two Indo-Pacific partners, and also Quad members, could provide South Asia with viable, transparent and sustainable alternatives for financing and development.

Reassignment of West Terminal Container Port 

  • Commercially, the west terminal offer is better for India as it gives 85% stake for developers of the West Terminal against the 49% in ECT.
  • And geo-politically too, West Terminal is almost the same if we consider the security aspect and the necessity to have a port terminal in Sri Lanka.
  • West Terminal is no smaller in size or depth compared to the East Terminal.
  • There is no difference between East and West Terminals except for the fact that development of the ECT is partialy completed while the development of the West Terminal has to start from scratch.

Indian and Chinese ports in the Indian Ocean region 

  • Based on the theory of string pearls in the Indian Ocean, China is investing in strategically important foreign commercial ports.
  • Some of these ports include Chittagong in Bangladesh, Gwadar in Pakistan, Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Kyaupkyu in Myanmar, Malacca in Malaysia, Mombasa in Kenya
  • Chinese scholars recognize the far-reaching strategic significance of these projects for the success of the maritime Silk Road.
  • On the other hand India has also begun to invest heavily, albeit quietly, in expanding its naval and air power across the Indian Ocean.
  • The effort is driven by two factors: a desire to improve maritime domain awareness and maritime security throughout the vast region, and New Delhi’s growing anxieties about Chinese inroads in its strategic backyard
  • Piracy, illegal fishing, and other maritime crimes remain serious concerns and potential sources of instability around the entire Indian Ocean rim
  • As a response, India has presence in the ports shown in the picture above.

 

4.  India gives 1 mn doses to Myanmar

UPSC Syllabus: Mains – GS Paper II- Internal Relations

Sub Theme:  Myanmar | UPSC
In 2008, the military had written a new Constitution that made sure the Generals’ interests would be protected even if there is a transition.

Important clauses of Constitution:

  • According to the Constitution, the President must have military experienceand he himself, his spouse or children “shall not be subject of a foreign power or citizen of a foreign country”. (Ms. Suu Kyi, whose two sons are British citizens, cannot become President).
  • The Constitution mandates that the Defence and Interior Ministries be controlled by the military.
  • 25% of the total seats in Parliament(166 out of the 664-member house) are reserved for the military, giving it a veto over any move to change the Constitution.

Political Timeline after 2010:

  • The political climate in the junta-led Myanmar started changing around 2010.
  • The Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), which had not recognised the Constitution, boycotted the 2010 election, which the Army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) won.
  • In the next five years, the Army loosened its grip on the government and society. Political prisoners, including Ms. Suu Kyi, were released. Media censorship was eased. Ms. Suu Kyi’s party also changed its earlier position and accepted the Constitution. The NLD won the 2015 election, and formed the government, raising hopes that the country is on its way to full transition to democracy.
  • 2020 elections: With 166 seats reserved for the military, the USDP wanted only 167 seats to form the government and appoint the next President, whereas the NLD needed 333 seats for an outright victory.
  • The voters gave the NLD 396 seats, while the USDP ended up with just 33.

What is Army’s stand?

According to Army, there was “terrible fraud in the voter list” in the parliamentary elections held in November 2020, and that the Election Commission “failed to settle the matter.”

Claiming that this development would “obstruct the path to democracy”, the army declared an emergency, transferring all powers to Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing.

(However, the Union Election Commission (UEC) has rejected all of the military’s claims of electoral fraud in the November general election saying each vote was counted transparently and witnessed by election candidates, election staff, the media, observers and other civil society organizations.)

The decision is questionable on legal and constitutional grounds since:

  • Electoral issues need to be addressed and resolved by relevant authorities, not the military leadership.
  • Article 417 of the Constitution empowers the President to proclaim emergency, in consultation with the National Defence and Security Council. It does not seem that the Council met or presidential consent was obtained. In fact, President Win Myint and the de facto head of the government, Ms. Suu Kyi, have been detained.

World’s reaction:

USA:

“The United States opposes any attempt to alter the outcome of recent elections or impede Myanmar’s democratic transition, and will take action against those responsible if these steps are not reversed,” the White House statement.

United Nations:

António Guterres, the United Nations secretary-general, said the coup developments “represent a serious blow to democratic reforms in Myanmar.”

China

China refrained from criticising the military leadership for seizing power in a coup and urged the international community to not interfere.

China is not in favour of external powers “taking actions that would raise tensions”.

India’s reaction

India expressed “deep concern” over the reports of an unfolding military coup in Myanmar. India stressed that the rule of law and the democratic process must be upheld.

Way Ahead for India

Regardless of the reasons for the coup, the step is a setback for the international community’s efforts to engage with Myanmar, after a strict sanctions regime.

India is committed to the policy of non-interference in another state’s internal affairs guided by the national interest. Therefore, in managing relations with Myanmar, India astutely balances its principles, values, interests and geopolitical realities by

  • nudging along the democratic process by supporting Ms. Suu Kyi, and
  • working with the military to ensure its strategic interests to the North East a
  • deny China a monopoly on Myanmar’s infrastructure and resources

The government will need to craft its response taking into consideration the new geopolitical realities of the U.S. and China as well as its own standing as a South Asian power, and as a member of the UN Security Council.

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