Daily Current Affairs for UPSC IAS | 5th October 2021

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1.  Govt. moots changes to Forest Conservation Act

UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: Environment | Mains – GS Paper III – Environment
Sub Theme: Proposed amendment to the Forest (Conservation Act), 1980 | Problems with Proposed Amendment | UPSC

Proposed amendment to the Forest (Conservation Act),1980:

  • Exemptions
  • Agencies involved in national security projects and border infrastructure projectswill be exempted from obtaining prior forest clearance from the Centre.
  • Exempt application of FCA on forest land that is used for underground exploration and production of oil and natural gas through Extended Reach Drilling (ERD) originating outside forest land.
  • Exempting land acquired before 1980 — before the FCA came into effect — by public sector bodies such as the Railways, if they put the land to the same use for which it was acquired.The exemption is subject to terms and conditions that the central government will lay down through guidelines, which include planting trees to compensate for the loss of forests.
  • Currently, the document notes, there was “strong resentment” among several Ministries on how the Act was being interpreted over the right of way of railways, highways.
  • As of today, a landholding agency (Rail, NHAI, PWD, etc.) is required to take approval under the Act and pay stipulated compensatory levies such as Net Present Value (NPV), Compensatory Afforestation (CA), etc. for use of such land which was originally been acquired for non-forest purposes.
  • The proposal also aims to empower state governments to lease forest land to private individuals and corporations.
  • The Environment Ministry also proposes adding a clause to make offences under the modified Act punishable with simple imprisonment for a period which may extend to one year and make it cognisable and non-bailable. They also propose provisions for penal compensation to make good for the damage already done.
  • Proposed changes in the definition of “non-forestry” activities.
    • The exemption of zoos and safaris from “non-forest purpose” comes a year after the government proposed to open a zoo in Mumbai’s Aarey forest and a tiger safari in Madhya Pradesh led to objections from biologists.
    • Proposal to remove zoos, safaris, Forest Training infrastructures from the definition of “non-forestry” activities.
    • “survey, reconnaissance, prospecting, exploration or investigation” for a future activity in the forest will not be classified as a “non-forestry activity”
    • exempt plantation of native species of palm and oil-bearing trees from the definition of “non-forest purpose”.

What are the problems with the proposed amendments?

  • The concern is that, if the proposed amendments come into force, they would dilute the provisions of the landmark 1996 decision of the Supreme Court in Godavarman case (TN Godavarman Thirumulkpad vs Union Of India & Ors).
  • The Godavarman case had started off as a petition to stop illegal felling of timber in the Nilgiri hills, but ended up expanding the coverage of the FCA.
  • The Supreme Court had held that the meaning of “forest” under the FCA would include not only statutorily recognised forests; it would include any area recorded as forest in government records, regardless of ownership.
  • The restrictions in the FCA would, therefore, be applicable to both de jure and de facto forests.
  • The proposed amendment purportedly seeks to reduce the scope of this judgment by limiting the applicability of the FCA to only such land that has been:
    • Declared or notified as forest under the Indian Forest Act, 1927
    • Recorded as forest land in the government record prior to 25 October 1980, with the exception of such land if its use has been changed from forest to non-forest purpose prior to 12 December 1996
    • Identified as “forest” by a state government expert committee up to one year from the date of the amendment.
  • The judgment interpreted the Act as it stood then. The addition of a specific definition thus limits the scope of the judgment. De facto forests are, therefore, excluded from the purview of the FCA.

The Forest (Conservation) Act, 1980

  • It is the principal legislation that regulates deforestation in the country. The act, 1980 was enacted after realization of the factthat failure of State Governments to withstand local pressure has resulted indiversion of approx. 4.135 million hectares of forest land diverted during 25year period from 1951-52 to 1975-76 without any regard to environmentalconsideration.
  • It prohibits the felling of forests for any “non-forestry” use without prior clearance by the central government.
  • The amendment to the act in 1988 prohibits the lease of forest land to anybody other than the government. It enhances conservation, plantation and increase of forest cover to an average of 33%.
  • “Non-forest purpose” means the breaking up or clearing of any forest land or portion thereof for any purpose other than reafforestation.
    • The cultivation of tea, coffee, spices, rubber, palms, oil-bearing plants, horticultural crops or medicinal plants are also non-forest purpose for the purpose of the FC Act;
    • However, any work relating or ancillary to conservation, development and management of forests and wildlife, namely, the establishment of checkposts, fire lines, wireless communications and construction of fencing, bridges and culverts, dams, waterholes, trench marks, boundary marks, pipelines or other like purposes, are not considered as non-forest purpose.
  • The term “forest land” mentioned in the act refers to the reserved forest, protected forest, or any area recorded as forest in the government records like village forests,  and private forests.
    • Land rights to forests declared to be Reserved forests or Protected forests are typically acquired and owned by the Government of India.
    • Reserved forests and protected forests are declared by the respective state governments.
    • At present, reserved forests and protected forests differ in one important way: Rights to all activities like hunting, grazing, etc. in reserved forests are banned unless specific orders are issued otherwise. In protected areas, rights to activities like hunting and grazing are sometimes given to communities living on the fringes of the forest, who sustain their livelihood partially or wholly from forest resources or products.
    • Typically, protected forests are often upgraded to the status of wildlife sanctuaries, which in turn may be upgraded to the status of national parks, with each category receiving a higher degree of protection and government funding. For example, Sariska National Park was declared a reserved forest in 1955, upgraded to the status of a wildlife sanctuary in 1958, becoming a Tiger Reserve in 1978. Sariska became a national park in 1992, though primary notification to declare it as a national park was issued as early as 1982.
    • The first Reserve Forest Of India was Satpura National Park.
    • Village forest: Village forests are the one in which the State Government may assign to ‘any village community the rights of Government to or over any land which has been constituted a reserved forest’.
  • The term “tree” will have the same meaning as defined in the Indian Forest Act 1927.
    • Under the original Forest Act 1927Act, the definition of tree includes palms, bamboos, stumps, brush-wood, and canes.  The amendment act amends this definition of tree to remove the word bamboos.
    • Since bamboo was defined as a tree under the Act, its inter-state movement requires permit when in transit in other states. Consequent to the amendment, felling or transportation of bamboos growing in non-forest areas will not require any permits.
  • The clearance process includes seeking consent from local forest rights-holders and from wildlife authorities. The Centre is empowered to reject such requests or allow it with legally binding conditions.
  • Even the cultivation of fruit-bearing trees, oil yielding plants, or medicinal plants in the forest area needs to be first approved to maintain the balance in the ecology of the forest.
  • Amended Forest Act, 1992
    • The Act made provision for allowing some non-forest activities in forests without cutting trees with prior approval of the Central government. These activities include the setting of transmission lines, seismic surveys, exploration, drilling, and hydroelectric projects.
    • Wildlife sanctuaries, National Parks, etc. are totally prohibited for any exploration or survey without prior approval of the Central government even if no tree felling is involved.
    • Cultivation of tea, coffee, spices, rubber, mulberry for rearing silkworms, and cash crops are included under non-forestry activities and are not allowed in reserve forests.
    • Mining is a non-forestry activity and prior approval of the Central government is mandatory.
  • In a landmark decision in 1996, the Supreme Court had expanded the coverage of FCA to all areas that satisfied the dictionary definition of a forest; earlier, only lands specifically notified as forests were protected by the enforcement of the FCA.

 

2.  ‘Hold Sri Lanka provincial polls’

UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: International Relations | Mains – GS Paper II – International Relations
Sub Theme: History of Tamil-Sinhalese conflict | Demand of separate Tamil State in Sri Lanka| India-Sri Lanka Relations | UPSC

 In this discussion, we shall cover the following 

  1. History of Tamil-Sinhalese conflict
  2. Demand of separate Tamil State in Sri Lanka
  3. Indian intervention on peace process in Sri Lanka and 13th amendment.
  4. Form of government in Srilanka
  5. India-Sri Lanka present relation.

History of Tamil-Sinhalese conflict

  • Great Britain ruled Sri Lanka—then called Ceylon—from 1815 to 1948.
  • In 1815, the population of Ceylon numbered about three million predominantly Buddhist Sinhalese and 300,000 mostly Hindu Tamils.
  • Sinhalese ancestors most likely arrived on the island from India in the 500s BCE.Sri Lankan people seem to have been in contact with Tamil speakers from southern India since at least the second century BCE.
  • The British established huge cash crop plantations on the island, first of coffee, and later of rubber and tea.
  • Colonial officials brought in approximately a million Tamil speakers from India to work as plantation laborers. The British also established schools in the northern, Tamil-majority part of the colony, and preferentially appointed Tamils to bureaucratic positions, angering the Sinhalese majority.
  • This was a common divide-and-rule tactic in European colonies that had troubling results in the post-colonial era in places such as Rwanda and Sudan.
  • The British granted Ceylon independence in 1948. The Sinhalese majority immediately began to pass laws that discriminated against Tamils, particularly the Indian Tamils brought to the island by the British.
  • The Ceylon Citizenship Act of 1948 effectively barred Indian Tamils from holding citizenship, making stateless people out of some 700,000. Over the next three decades more than 300,000 Indian Tamils were deported back to India.
  • They made Sinhalese the official language, driving Tamils out of the civil service.
  • It wasn’t until 2003, 55 years after independence—that all Indian Tamils living in Sri Lanka were granted citizenship, but by this time they only made up 5% of the island’s population.

Demand of separate Tamil State in Sri Lanka

  • In the late 1960s documents relating to a separate Tamil state of “Tamil Eelam” began to circulate. At this time Anton Balasingham, an employee of the British High Commission in Colombo, began to participate in separatist activities. He later migrated to Britain, where he became the chief theoretician of the LTTE.
  • The LTTE was founded in 1976 by Velupillai Prabhakaran with the goal of creating an independent Tamil Eelam out of Sri Lanka.
  • From clashes with the Sri Lankan military, the LTTE in the early 80s launched a fullscale nationalist insurgency in the north and east of the country, carrying out a string of major terrorist attacks against both military and civilian targets.
  • The Tamil Tigers declared the “First Eelam War” (1983-87)

13th constitutional Amendment 

  • It was an outcome of the Indo-Lanka Accord of July 1987.
  • It mandated a measure of power devolution to the provincial councils established to govern the island’s nine provinces.
  • It led to the creation of Provincial Councils, assured a power sharing arrangement to enable all nine provinces in the country, including Sinhala majority areas, to self-govern. Subjects such as education, health, agriculture, housing, land and police are devolved to the provincial administrations, but because of restrictions on financial powers and overriding powers given to the President, the provincial administrations have not made much headway.In particular, the provisions relating to police and land have never been implemented.
  • It recognised Tamil as second official language of Sri Lanka

It was opposed vociferously by both Sinhala nationalist parties and the LTTE. The former thought it was too much power to share, while the Tigers deemed it too little. It was widely perceived as an imposition by a neighbour wielding hegemonic influence.

Till date, the 13th Amendment represents the only constitutional provision on the settlement of the long-pending Tamil question. In addition to assuring a measure of devolution, it is considered part of the few significant gains since the 1980s, in the face of growing Sinhala-Buddhist majoritarianism from the time Sri Lanka became independent in 1948.

Demand to abolish the 13th amendment

From influential Cabinet ministers in the current government to state ministers, , many have openly called for the abolition of provincial councils after the new government took charge.

They deem the councils “white elephants”, and argue that in a small country the provinces could be effectively controlled by the Centre. The opposition camp also includes those fundamentally opposed to sharing any political power with the Tamil minority.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has referenced the Amendment more than once, especially during high-level bilateral visits, but observers in Sri Lanka wonder how far India can go on the Tamil question, amid growing geopolitical insecurities.

In 1987, India’s Prime Minister, Rajiv Gandhi, decided to directly intervene in the Sri Lankan Civil War by sending peacekeepers. India was concerned about separatism in its own Tamil region, Tamil Nadu, as well as a potential flood of refugees from Sri Lanka. The peacekeepers’ mission was to disarm militants on both sides, in preparation for peace talks.

The Indian peacekeeping force of 100,000 troops not only was unable to quell the conflict, it actually began fighting with the Tamil Tigers. The Tigers refused to disarm, sent female bombers and child soldiers to attack the Indians, and relations escalated into running skirmishes between the peacekeeping troops and the Tamil guerrillas.

In May 1990, Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa forced India to recall its peacekeepers; 1,200 Indian soldiers had died battling the insurgents.

In 1991, an LTTE suicide bomber killed Rajiv Gandhi in an attack on Indian soil. President Premadasa would die in a similar attack in May 1993.

Throughout 2002 and 2003, the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil Tigers negotiated various ceasefires and signed a Memorandum of Understanding, again mediated by the Norwegians. The two sides compromised with a federal solution, rather than the Tamils’ demand for a two-state solution or the government’s insistence on a unitary state

However, on October 31, 2003, the Tigers declared themselves in full control of the north and east regions of the country, prompting the government to declare a state of emergency. Within just over a year, monitors from Norway recorded 300 infractions of the ceasefire by the army and 3,000 by the Tamil Tigers. When the Indian Ocean Tsunami hit Sri Lanka on December 26, 2004, it killed 35,000 people and sparked another disagreement between the Tigers and the government over how to distribute aid in Tiger-held areas.

The organisation was finally crushed in a ruthless military offensive by the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2009.

Form of government in Srilanka 

Sri Lanka hasSemi-presidential system.

  • In semi-presidential systems, there is always both a president and a prime minister.
  • In such systems, the president has genuine executive authority, unlike in a parliamentary republic, but the role of a head of government may be exercised by the prime minister.
Presidential government  Semi-presidential government Parliamentary government
Only President Both a president and a prime minister Both a president and a prime minister
Head of the state of Popularly elected Head of the state of Popularly elected Head of the state is not Popularly elected
No legislative responsibility legislative responsibility legislative responsibility
Government does not depend on a legislative majority Government does depend on a legislative majority Government does depend on a legislative majority
  • Sri Lanka elects on national level a head of state – the president – and a legislature.
  • The President, directly elected, is head of state, head of government, and commander in chief of the armed forces.
  • President is responsible to parliament for the exercise of duties under the constitution and laws.
  • The president may be removed from office by a two-thirds vote of Parliament with the concurrence of the Supreme Court.
  • The prime minister would serve as the deputy to the president if both are from the same political party. In certain occasions, when the president is not from the majority party in parliament or a national government is formed, the prime minister would be appointed from a party different from the president’s. In such a situations the prime minister would serve as the de facto head of government.
  • The President’s deputy is the prime minister, who leads the ruling party in Parliament. A parliamentary no-confidence vote requires dissolution of the cabinet and the appointment of a new one by the President.
  • Parliament reserves the power to make all laws.

After the 1978 constitutional amendment president has vast power –

  • The President may summon, suspend, or end a legislative session and dissolve Parliament any time after it has served for one year.
  • President choose the Prime Minister from the party having majority in the parliament.
  • President has the power to remove the PM or ministers.
  • Very difficult to remove the president.

In 2015, the nineteenth amendment was passed to curb powers of the Executive President, while strengthening Parliament and independent commissions.

The Economist Intelligence Unit, in its Democracy Index rated Sri Lanka a “flawed democracy” in 2019.

No Ray of reconciliation in the dark shadow of civil war

Hindu Tamils, who make about 11 per cent of Sri Lanka’s population, have had an acrimonious relationship with Mahinda Rajapaksa ever since he wiped out the LTTE in 2009 — many members of the community became collateral victims in the process. Gotabaya was the defence secretary at that time.

The national anthem will no more be sung in Tamil, the second official language of the country, at the National Day ceremony. The practice had been initiated in 2016 by the previous National Unity Government, as a measure of inclusiveness, and in recognition of the need for national reconciliation.

The geopolitical challenge for India

  • India abstained from voting on a UN Human Rights Council resolution in Geneva calling for a probe into alleged war crimes by Sri Lanka.
  • The Rajapaksas are known to be pro-China. Mahinda Rajapaksa was largely responsible for opening Sri Lanka to massive — and strategic — Chinese investments. The Hambantota Port and 15,000 acres have been conceded to China on a 99-year lease, causing considerable consternation in New Delhi, which apprehends that this deep sea port could be used for military purposes, and not just trade. The deal was put on a hold by former PM Ranil Wikremasinghe but the present dispensation wants it to be restored.
  • India announced a $50 million line of credit for security and counter-terrorism and another $400 million for development and infrastructure projects in Sri Lanka.

 

3.  Need to double infra spending: Seth

UPSC Syllabus: Prelims: Economy | Mains – GS Paper III – Economy
Sub Theme: Enhanced Capital Expenditure | Union Budget | UPSC

To deal with Economic slowdown, the Union Budget 2021-22 has substantially enhanced the Capital Expenditure to ensure multiplier effect, boost both demand and supply, crowd-in private sector investment, revive the animal spirits and kickstart Indian economy. However, it is easier said than done. The ability of capital expenditure to boost long-term growth is saddled with multi-faceted challenges.

Trends in Revenue and Capital Expenditure in India

  • The share of revenue expenditure in the total expenditure has increased from 73% in 1990 to 84% in 2021.
  • However, the share of Capital Expenditure has reduced from 27% in 1990 to 12% in 2019-20.
  • Similarly, a higher share of our borrowings (Fiscal Deficit) is used for funding Revenue Expenditure rather than Capital Expenditure. This shows a consistent decline in the quality of Fiscal Deficit in India.
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