1. China’s new law ‘formalises’ its LAC actions
UPSC Syllabus: Mains – GS Paper III – Security challenges and their management in border areas
Sub Theme: New Law by China to claim disputed territories | UPSC
New Law of China
- China’s legislature has adopted a new border law, to take effect on January 1, that calls on the state and military to safeguard territory and “combat any acts” that undermine China’s territorial claims.
- The law was first proposed in March this year, a year into tensions that erupted along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India after the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) mobilised two divisions in forward areas and carried out multiple transgressions.
- China has unresolved border disputes with India and Bhutan. The new law would formalise some of China’s recent actions in disputed territories with both India and Bhutan, including the PLA’s massing of troops in forward areas along the India border, multiple transgressions across the LAC, and the construction of new “frontier villages” along the border with Bhutan.
- As per the new law, the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the People’s Republic of China are sacred and inviolable and China shall take measures to safeguard territorial integrity and land boundaries and guard against and combat any act that undermines territorial sovereignty and land boundaries.
- It also calls on the state to “take measures to strengthen border defence, support economic and social development as well as opening-up in border areas, improve public services and infrastructure in such areas, encourage and support people’s life and work there, and promote coordination between border defence and social, economic development in border areas.
- The law designates the various responsibilities of the military, the State Council or Cabinet, and provincial governments in managing the security and economic issues in border areas.
Concerns for India
- Will increase troops mobilisation across the borders and will further strain India-China relations.
- Will impact solving existing border disputes with China in the Galwan valley.
- There is a possibility of Chinese Army moving beyond Line of Actual Control to claim Indian territory.
- New law will legitimise China’s claim on Indian territory currently under China’s occupation.
- Socio-economic development along Indian borders, especially in Tibet and Arunachal will increase future skirmishes in the region – Chinese army can easily mobilise troops in difficult and hilly terrain.
Conclusion – Despite the developments on Chinese side, India must continue its engagement with China to resolve border disputes amicably. India should also keep an eye on further troops mobilisation by Chinese Army along India-China border to ensure that Chinese troops do not occupy Indian land.
2. India’s Central Asian outreach
UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: International Relations | Mains – GS Paper II – International Relations
Sub Theme: India’s Central Asian Outreach | UPSC
Context: In the backdrop of Taliban taking over Afghanistan after US withdrawal from Afghanistan and increasing Chinese influence in the region, this provides an excellent opportunity for India to continue and extend its Central Asian Outreach to increase its strategic influence in the region.
India’s Foreign Minister’s Visit to Central Asia
- Indian understands the ground realities in Central Asia diplomacy and because of this India’s External Affairs Minister (EAM) has visited the region thrice in the last four months.
- In Kyrgyzstan, Mr. Jaishankar extended a credit line of $200 million for the support of development projects and signed an memorandum of understanding (MoU) on High-Impact Community Development Projects (HICDP).
- In Kazakhstan capital, Nur Sultan, EAM attended the 6th Foreign Ministers’ Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA).
- At CICA, Mr. Jaishankar targeted China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Admonishing China’s methods in promoting the BRI, he said while greater connectivity was essential for the promotion of regional stability, it must not be pursued for parochial interests. He also confronted Pakistan for its support towards cross-border terrorism.
- Before reaching Armenia on October 13, Mr. Jaishankar met his counterparts from Russia, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan to discuss regional cooperation.
- Central Asia is a region in Asia which stretches from the Caspian Sea in the west to China and Mongolia in the east, and from Afghanistan and Iran in the south to Russia in the north, including the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
- The geopolitical scenario is undergoing a sea change in the last few years in Central Asia. These radical transformations in the geopolitical front of Central Asia are taking place largely due to the interplay of both global and regional forces and their subsequent impact on the region.
About Central Asia countries
- Doubly Landlocked – All the 5 countries are doubly land locked because their neighbours are also land-locked. For these countries to integrate substantively with the world economy and develop fruitful economic relations with the outside world, they need to have access to warm-water seas.
- Mineral rich region – All the five countries are richly endowed with natural and mineral resources. These countries have vast stretches of unexplored minerals including uranium, oil and gas making it an important region for India’s economic interest.
- Political stability – All the five republics have been by and large peaceful and stable throughout the twenty five years of their independent existence.
- Extremism- Although terrorist groups like Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, Hizb-ut-Tahrir and others are present in the Ferghana valley, they have not been very active or effective in creating disturbances. This could however change if violence due to the Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan increases and spreads to other countries in the region. The five republics have been largely secular and liberal so far. Religious extremism, fundamentalism and terrorism pose challenges to all these societies and to regional stability.
- Drug trade and Great Game – Central Asian republics face serious threat from illegal drug trade emanating from Afghanistan. Traditionally, Central Asia has been an arena of ‘’great game’’. The modern version is being played out even today. Russia, China, US, Turkey, Iran, Europe, EU, Japan, Pakistan, India, Afghanistan have substantial security and economic stakes in the region.
India – Central Asia
- Historical cultural relations – India has several millennia old historical, cultural and civilisational links with Central Asia. The region was connected with India through the silk road through which Buddhism spread in the region and economic and cultural ties bloomed.
- Strategic Importance – The region is considered to be extended neighbourhood of India. The countries are centrally located in India’s continental neighbourhood.
- Geopolitics – Geopolitically the region is important for India to counter the increasing Chinese influence with its Belt Road Initiative in India’s continental neighbourhood. With Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan, Central Asia can play a crucial role in India’s strategic calculations in the region.
- Energy needs – India is an energy deficit country. This region is extremely well endowed with hydrocarbon resources and other mineral and natural resources.
- Connectivity – Because of presence of Pakistan and China on the norther borders and hostile Taliban in Afghanistan, India does not have direct access to these Central Asian republics.
- Trade – Despite great potential, India’s trade with this region has been minimal because of lack of direct connectivity. Largest trading partners of this region are still Russia and China owing to geographical proximity.
Initiatives taken by India
Connect Central Asia
- India’s ‘Connect Central Asia‘ Policy is a broad-based approach, including political, security, economic and cultural connections.
- India is stepping up multilateral engagement with Central Asian partners using the synergy of joint efforts through existing fora like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, Eurasian Economic Community (EEC) and the Custom Union. India has become a member of the SCO of which majority of the central Asian countries are members.
- India looks to Central Asia as a long term partner in energy, and natural resources. Central Asia possesses large cultivable tracts of land and it sees potential for India to cooperate in production of profitable crops with value addition.
- India is working on setting up a Central Asian e-network with its hub in India, to deliver, tele-education and tele-medicine connectivity, linking all the five Central Asian States.
- As for land connectivity, India has reactivated the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC).
- India’s is modernizing the infrastructure of the Chabahar port in Iran, which could become an important link in trade and transport communications between the markets of Central and South Asia.
- India recently joined the Ashgabat Agreement, which was instituted in April 2011 to establish an international multimodal transport and transit corridor between Central Asia and the Persian Gulf. Its objective is to enhance connectivity within the Eurasian region and synchronize it with other regional transport corridors, including the International North–South Transport Corridor (INSTC).
Economic and Humanitarian engagement
- 1st meeting of the India-Central Asia Dialogue held in 2019 in Samarkand (Uzbekistan) which is establishing a platform for strengthening cooperation between India and the Central Asian countries
- India has provided humanitarian medical assistance to these countries for COVID-19 relief.
- India has provided US$ 1 billion Line of Credit for priority developmental projects in fields such as connectivity, energy, IT, healthcare, education, agriculture
- India-Central Asia Business Council (ICABC) has also been launched for boosting business to business engagement.
- The joint statement on the India-Central Asian dialogue also focused on the need to combat terrorism by destroying safe havens, infrastructure, networks, and funding channels
- Connections between our peoples are the most vital linkages to sustain our deep engagement.
- India already has a robust exchange of students. India will encourage regular exchanges of scholars, academics, civil society and youth delegations to gain deeper insights into each other’s cultures.
Challenges in India’s outreach to Central Asia
- The takeover of Afghanistan by Taliban has severely altered India’s strategic calculations in the region. However India can leverage its relationship with the CARs to engage with Taliban.
- US sanctions on Iran and increasing Chinese presence has caused much delay in operationalising the Chabahar port fully.
- INSTC project has witnessed slow growth due to a combination of factors including low trade volumes, incomplete infrastructure, and sanctions.
- India must redouble its efforts in the area of connectivity to further its regional presence.
- This becomes all the more important in the context of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, with two of its six corridors running through Central Asia.
- Being part of the erstwhile USSR, Russia still has considerable influence on these countries. However to counter the Chinese influence, Russia has been promoting its own Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) to pursue regional and economic integration.
- China has been expanding its regional presence, as seen in the ‘5+1 format’ launched in 2020 to further its clout. Its advances are causing concerns of ‘debt-trap diplomacy’ given the economic situation of Central Asian countries.
- This provides India with an opportunity to leverage its good relations to counter the fears of ‘Chinese Debt diplomacy’.
- India has been a latecomer and has turned its attention to the region only in recent years.
- India’s trade with the region amounts to US$ 2 billion, owing to limited connectivity and low economic engagement with the region. This amount is less than 0.5 percent of India’s total trade, whereas the region’s trade with China amounts to US$ 100 billion.
- India needs to direct investment to the region to reap the economic benefits of the strategic location of Central Asia that puts it at the crossroads of key trade and commerce routes.
- India must increase its developmental and humanitarian aid to the region and promote closer people-to-people ties through education, knowledge transfer, medicine and health, culture, cuisine, and tourism.
- Multilateral organisations like SCO, EAEU, and CICA can serve as platforms for sustained engagement and regular exchange of ideas.
- The SCO is a crucial grouping that provides India a strategic convergence with Russia and China on addressing new security challenges, enhancing infrastructural development projects, and creating a network of regional oil and gas pipelines for the larger benefit of the Central and South Asian region.
3. E-waste disposal, a mounting headache
UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: Environment | Mains – GS Paper III – Environment
Sub Theme: E-waste Management | Challenges with E-waste Management | UPSC
Definition: Electronic waste (e-waste), that is, waste arising from end-of-life electronic products such as computers and mobile phones, is one of the fastest growing waste streams in the world today.
- Annual global production of e-waste is estimated to surpass 50 million tons in 2020.
- India is among the top five e-waste producing countries in the world with estimated annual production of 2 million tons.
- Like some of the other developing countries, e-waste management in India is dominated by the informal sector with estimates of more than 90 per cent of the waste being processed in this sector.
- E-waste contains several precious metals, rare earth metals, ferrous and non-ferrous metals, plastic, wood and glass.
- Unscientific practices in the processing of e-waste are associated with several environmental and health externalities.
Importance of e-Waste and its sound management
- All e-waste is valuable as it is highly rich in metals such as copper, iron, tin, nickel, lead, zinc, silver, gold, and palladium. Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) contain rare and precious metals such as ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, osmium, iridium and platinum – which are together referred to as the Platinum Group Metals (PGM).
- E-waste, if handled and disposed of in an inefficient manner can lead to extremely damaging impact on human health and the environment.
- This is mainly because e-waste comprises hazardous constituents such as lead, cadmium, chromium, brominated flame retardants or polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that contaminate soil, water and food.
The problem of e-Waste Management
- Primarily conducted by informal sector:
- Unfortunately, the collection and recycling of e-waste is predominantly being done by the informal or unorganized labour through highly environmentally degradative ways, which cause serious health hazards.
- High rate of collection but low recovery:
- The rate of e-waste collection is very high in India owing to its valuable content.
- But since most of the e-waste recycling is done by the informal sector in India, wherein recovery of valuable materials ranges between 10–20% only.
- Exposure of vulnerable section to toxic elements:
- The informal sector comprises of unskilled workers, sometimes even children who live in close proximity to dumps or landfills of untreated e-waste and work in dangerous working conditions without any protection or safety gear.
- Environmental degradation:
- Non-environmentally sound practices – such as burning cables to recover copper and unwanted materials in open air – caused environmental pollution and severe health hazards to the operators.
- Practices like disposal of unsalvageable materials in fields and riverbanks has led to leaching of heavy metals/chemicals into land and water.
- Some of the e-waste is extremely complex in constitution and hence difficult to recycle, while the other does not even have environmentally sound recycling technologies.
Emerging Issues Apart from the large informal sector, India faces a number of other challenges in effective management of e-waste, such as:
- Lack of infrastructure:
- The gap between e-waste that is being collected and recycled by authorized dismantlers/recyclers and the total quantum of e-waste being generated is huge.
- Lack of infrastructure:
- The existing recycling facilities face issues from lack of suitable environmentally sound technologies to lack of steady supply of raw materials.
- This is mainly because consumers, owing to lack of awareness about the hazardous impact of inappropriate e-waste recycling, sell their electronic waste to informal recyclers for quick money as it is easier and faster.
- Thus, registered recycling units are deprived of a regular supply of e-waste which is crucial for their sustenance. Currently, the authorized e-waste recycling facilities in India capture only small amount of the total e-waste generated and the rest makes its way into informal recycling.
- High cost of setting up recycling facilities:
- Advanced recycling technology is expensive and makes large investments risky, especially when sourcing of e-waste is a challenge.
- Most of the formal recycling companies in India limit their role to only pre-processing of e-waste, wherein the crushed e-waste with precious metals is exported to smelting refineries outside India. An end-to-end solution for e-waste recycling is still not available in India.
New and Future Initiatives
Since the implementation of the erstwhile E-waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011 ( ‘Rules 2011’) and the more recent E-waste (Management) Rules, 2016 ( ‘Rules 2016’) there has been a growing change in perception of e-waste in the waste recycling market in India. Electrical and electronic waste with its rich content of valuable metals is increasingly being seen as a harvest point for urban mining. Recognizing the potential of the formal e-waste recycling sector in alleviating the environmental issues caused by unscientific methods of handling and disposal of e-waste, GoI has taken the following new initiatives:
- Extended Producer Responsibility: The linchpin of Rules 2016 is the provision on extended producer responsibility (EPR). Based on the ‘polluter pays’ principle, it brings in producers who have the wherewithal to collect the end-of-life products placed in the market in the past and, thereby, effectively serves to channelise the electrical and electronic product from cradle-to-grave. The collection targets were revised in 2018. So far, 1151 producers of electrical and electronic equipment in the country have been given EPR authorisation by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB).
- Boosting the formal e-waste recycling industry: The Amendment to the E-waste (Management) Rules, 2016 was made with the objective of channelizing e-waste generated in the country towards authorised dismantlers and recyclers in order to formalise the e-waste recycling sector.
- Developing an online mass balance system: The government is currently in the process of developing an online mass balance system to monitor the e-waste flow in India. This would enable automated data management, transparency, reduce administrative burden of authorities, shift from traditional paper-based systems to electronic recording, and better enforcement of EPR provisions of Rules 2016.
- Conducting a national inventory of E-waste: All State Pollution Control Boards/ Pollution Control Committees have been mandated to develop inventories of e-waste in their respective states/union territories.
- Facilitating Producer Responsibility Organisations: The e-waste rules provide producers with the option of using Producer Responsibility Organisations (PROs) to implement EPR. Producer Responsibility Organizations (PROs) shall apply to the Central Pollution Control board (CPCB) for registration to undertake activities prescribed in the Rules.
- Reduction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) provisions – cost for sampling and testing shall be borne by the government for conducting the RoHS test. If the product does not comply with RoHS provisions, then the cost of the test will be borne by the Producers.
Some of the future initiatives are listed as follows:
- Addressing the informal sector
- Bridging the gap between formal and informal sectors.
- Improving the working conditions and minimising the work related to toxic exposure at the e-waste collection, processing, recovery and disposal sites.
- Access to environmentally sound technologies
- Cost-effective technologies for recycling e-waste such as Li-ion batteries, printed circuit boards, etc.
- R&D on innovative technologies for
- processing e-waste and effective metal extraction methodologies.
- Development of sustainable e-waste business models and implementation of pilot projects for different innovations
4. Villages on Periyar banks in alert mode
UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: Environment
Sub Theme: Periyar River | Mullaperiyar Dam | UPSC
Periyar (meaning big river) is the longest river and the river with the largest discharge potential in the Indian state of Kerala. It is one of the few perennial rivers in the region and provides drinking water for several major towns. It discharges its water in the Arabian sea. On the mouth of this river there is Vembanad Lake and Kochi City.
Origin of River: Sivagiri
Main tributaries: Muthirapuzha Ar, Perinjankutty, Idamalayar, Mangalapuzha
Mullaperiyar Dam is a masonry gravity dam on the Periyar River in the Indian state of Kerala. It is located 881 m (2,890 ft) above mean sea level, on the Cardamom Hills of the Western Ghats in Thekkady, Idukki District of Kerala, India. It was constructed between 1887 and 1895 by John Pennycuick and also reached in an agreement to divert water eastwards to the Madras Presidency area (present-day Tamil Nadu).
The Mullaperiyar dam is constructed at the confluence of the Periyar and Mullayar to create the Periyar Thekkady lake and reservoir, as well as the Periyar National Park. The area belonging to Tamil Nadu in the Periyar basin is located far down the river from the Mullaperiyar Dam site.
5. Leopard released into the wild – Satpura Tiger Reserve
UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: Environment
Sub Theme: Satpura Tiger Reserve | Satpura Range | UPSC
About Satpura range:
- The Satpura Range is a range of hills in central India.
- The range rises in eastern Gujarat running east through the border of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh and ends in Chhattisgarh.
- The range parallels the Vindhya Range to the north, and these two east-west ranges divide Indian Subcontinent into the Indo-Gangetic plain of northern India and the Deccan Plateau of the south.
- The Narmada River originates from north-eastern end of Satpura in Amarkantak and runs in the depression between the Satpura and Vindhya ranges, draining the northern slope of the Satpura range, running west towards the Arabian Sea. The Tapti River originates in the eastern-central part of Satpura, crossing the range in the centre and running west at the range’s southern slopes before meeting the Arabian Sea at Surat, draining the central and southern slopes of the range.
- Multai, the place of Tapi river origin is located about 465 kilometre far, south-westerly to Amarkantak, separated across by the hill range.
- The Godavari River and its tributaries drain the Deccan plateau, which lies south of the range, and the Mahanadi River drains the easternmost portion of the range.
- The Godavari and Mahanadi rivers flow into the Bay of Bengal.
- At its eastern end, the Satpura range meets the hills of the Chotanagpur Plateau.
- The Satpura Range is a horst mountain and is flanked by Narmada Graben in the north and much smaller but parallel Tapi Graben in the south.
About Satpura tiger reserve:
- Satpura Tiger Reserve (STR) also known as Satpura National Park is located in the Hoshangabad District (newly named Narmadapuram ) of Madhya Pradesh and was established in 1981.
- Satpura National Park is rich in biodiversity. The animals here include leopard, sambar, chital, Indian muntjac, nilgai, four-horned antelope, Chinkara, wild boar, bear, black buck, fox, porcupine, flying squirrel, mouse deer, and Indian giant squirrel. There are a variety of birds. Hornbills and peafowl are common birds found here. The flora consists of mainly sal, teak, tendu, Phyllanthus emblica, mahua, bel, bamboo, and grasses and medicinal plants.