Note: Catch the UPSC Weekly Quiz every Saturday evening and brush up on your current affairs knowledge.)
The Indian Express’ UPSC weekly news express covers some of the important and burning topics of current affairs news from this week to help you prepare for UPSC-CSE. Try out the MCQs and check your answers provided towards the end of the article.
Preliminary Examination: Economic and Social Development and Current events of national and international importance
Mains Examination: General Studies II: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.
Why in news?
— Women constitute only one third of internet users in India, said a study conducted by NGO Oxfam India. According to ‘India Inequality Report 2022: Digital Divide’ released by the NGO on Sunday, India fares the worst with the widest gender gap of 40.4 per cent in the Asia-Pacific.
— Women constitute only one third of internet users in India, said a study conducted by NGO Oxfam India.
— According to ‘India Inequality Report 2022: Digital Divide’ released by the NGO on Sunday, Indian women are 15 per cent less likely to own a mobile phone and 33 per cent less likely to use mobile internet services than men.
— In Asia-Pacific, India fares the worst with the widest gender gap of 40.4 per cent, says the study. The report also points to rural-urban digital divide. “Despite registering a significant (digital) growth rate of 13 per cent in a year, only 31 per cent of the rural population uses Internet compared to 67 percent of their urban counterparts,” says the report.
— The report analyses the primary data from Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy’s (CMIE) household survey held from Jan 2018 to Dec 2021.
— Among states, Maharashtra has the highest internet penetration, followed by Goa and Kerala, while Bihar has the lowest, followed by Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, the report said.
“As per the NSS (2017-18), only about 9 per cent of the students who were enrolled in any course had access to a computer with internet and 25 percent of enrolled students had access to the internet through any kind of devices,” says the report.
— The digital push driven by the pandemic resulted in India experiencing the largest number of real-time digital transactions in 2021 at 48.6 billion.
— However, the likelihood of a digital payment by the richest 60 per cent is four times more than the poorest 40 per cent in India.
— In rural India, the tendency to use formal financial services is lowest for ST households, followed by SC households and OBC households.
— According to UN’s e-participation index (2022), which is a composite measure of three important dimensions of e-government, namely provision of online services, telecommunication connectivity and human capacity, India ranks 105 out of 193 nations, it said.
— The likelihood of access to a computer is more for the General and OBC groups than for the SC and ST populations. The difference between the general category and ST is as high as seven to eight per cent between 2018 and 2021.
— The chances of having a computer are higher with higher levels of education as well as income. As much as 99 per cent rural population did not have a computer post the pandemic – an increase of two per cent— while the urban population witnessed an increase of seven per cent to 91 per cent.
— Among all religions, Sikhs have highest likelihood of having a computer followed by Christians, Hindus and lastly Muslims.
(Source: Women constitute one-third of Internet users in India by Esha Roy )
Point to ponder: Empowering women economically is good for everyone. Discuss.
‘ Global Gender Gap’ Index is released by
a) World Economic Forum
d) UN Women
Preliminary Examination: General issues on Environmental ecology, Bio-diversity and Climate Change
Mains Examination: General Studies III: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.
Why in news?
— The Wild Life (Protection) Amendment Bill, 2022, which seeks to to strengthen the protection of endangered species and forest lands, better management of protected areas and enhance punishment for illegal wildlife trade, was passed in the Rajya Sabha by a voice vote on Thursday. The Bill, which was cleared by the Lok Sabha on August 2 during the monsoon session, was introduced by Environment and Forest Minister Bhupender Yadav on Tuesday.
— It implements the provisions of the CITES- CITES is an international agreement between governments to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten the survival of the species.
— It gives more power to the Central Government: The central government can designate a Management Authority. This Management Authority may grant export or import permits for the trade of specimens. Central Government can regulate or prohibit the import, trade, possession or proliferation of invasive alien species. Invasive plant or animal species which are not native to India and whose introduction may adversely impact wildlife or its habitat
— In addition to it, central government may also notify a conservation reserve which act as buffer zones to or connectors and migration corridors between established national parks, and wildlife sanctuaries.
— It reduces the number of schedules from six to four. Note that currently, there are six schedules: protected plants (one), specially protected animals (four), and vermin species (one). The new bill removes the schedule for vermin species. Vermin are small animals that carry diseases and destroy food.
— The Bill also enhances the penalties prescribed for violation of provisions of the Act.
— It has invited scrutiny on two major issues: the exemption made to allow the transfer of captive elephants, and the sweeping powers given to the Centre to declare species as vermin.
—The legal dilemma over the elephant’s status — simultaneously an endangered wildlife species and a prized domestic animal — has persisted for long.
In 1897, the Elephants’ Preservation Act prohibited the killing or capture of wild elephants unless in self-defence or to protect property and crops, or under a licence issued by the district collector.
In 1927, the Indian Forest Act listed the elephant as ‘cattle’, prescribing the highest fine of Rs 10 for every impounded jumbo — in comparison, a cow attracted a fine of Re 1, and a camel of Rs 2.
The Wildlife (Protection) Act (WLPA), 1972, identified the elephant, along with the bullock, camel, donkey, horse, and mule, as a “vehicle”. Given the highest legal protection in 1977, the elephant is the only animal in WLPA’s Schedule-I that can still be owned legally — by means of inheritance or gift.
In 2003, Section 3 of the WLPA prohibited trade in all captive wildlife and any (non-commercial) transfer across state boundaries without permission from the concerned chief wildlife warden.
The WLPA (Amendment) Bill 2021 proposed an exception to Section 43: “This section shall not apply to the transfer or transport of any live elephant by a person having a certificate of ownership, where such person has obtained prior permission from the State Government on fulfillment of such conditions as may be prescribed by the Central Government.”
Along with conservation and animal welfare groups, the Parliamentary Standing Committee headed by Congress leader Jairam Ramesh objected to the blanket exemption, and recommended that it should be limited to temple elephants kept for religious purposes.
Under pressure, the government modified the exemption but worded the amended clause vaguely to allow the “transfer or transport of a captive elephant for a religious or any other purpose by a person having a valid certificate of ownership…subject to such terms and conditions as may be prescribed by the Central Government”. (emphasis added)
Critics point out that the prohibition on commercial transfer only drove the live elephant trade underground as traders switched to dressing up commercial deals as gift deeds to bypass the 2003 amendment. The sweeping ambit of “any other purpose” in the present amendment, they say, will empower elephant traders, put wild populations at greater risk of capture, and defeat the very purpose of WLPA.
A counter view is that the 2003 amendment did not benefit captive elephants who suffer when their owners fail to bear the expenses of their upkeep, particularly in the post-Covid scenario, and allowing such owners to transfer their elephants legally to those willing to and capable of looking after the animals is a welcome step.
The vermin conflict
The damage due to crop depredation by wild animals has never been computed. But for lakhs of farmers around the many protected forests, it is the biggest challenge to livelihood, not to mention the occasional threat to life.
Since 1972, the WLPA has identified a few species — fruit bats, common crows and rats — as vermin or nuisance animals that spread diseases or destroy crops and are not protected under the Act. Killing animals outside this list was allowed under two circumstances:
* Under Section 62 of WLPA, given sufficient reasons, any species other than those accorded the highest legal protection (such as tiger and elephant but not wild boar or nilgai) can be declared vermin at a certain place for a certain time.
* Under Section 11 of WLPA, the chief wildlife warden can allow the killing of an animal irrespective of its status in the Schedules, if it becomes “dangerous to human life”.
The state governments took the decisions under Section 62 until 1991 when an amendment handed these powers to the Centre. The purpose was apparently to restrict the possibility of eliminating a large number of animals at a species level as vermin. Under Section 11, states could issue culling permits only locally and for a few animals.
(Source: Parliament passes Wildlife Bill: Questions remain on elephants, vermin by Jay Mazoomdaar)
Point to ponder: Wildlife conservationists oppose amendment to Wildlife Protection Act. Do you know why?
In which one among the following categories of protected areas in India are local people not allowed to collect and use the biomass?(2012)
(a) Biosphere Reserves
(b) National Parks
(c) Wetlands declared under Ramsar Convention
(d) Wildlife Sanctuaries
Preliminary Examination: Indian Polity and Governance-Constitution, Political System, Panchayati Raj, Public Policy, Rights Issues, etc.
Mains Examination: General Studies II: Salient features of the Representation of People’s Act.
Why in news?
— The glimmer for AAP, its leaders said, is the 12.9-per cent vote share, five seats in the Gujarat Assembly — and that it had emerged as a national party (six per cent vote share in at least four states: Delhi, Punjab, Goa and now Gujarat).
What is a national party?
— The name suggests that a national party would be one that has a presence ‘nationally’, as opposed to a regional party whose presence is restricted to only a particular state or region.
— National parties are usually India’s bigger parties, such as the Congress and BJP. However, some smaller parties, like the communist parties, are also recognised as national parties. A certain stature is sometimes associated with being a national party, but this does not necessarily translate into having a lot of national political clout.
— Some parties, despite being dominant in a major state — such as the DMK in Tamil Nadu, BJD in Odisha, YSRCP in Andhra Pradesh, RJD in Bihar, or TRS in Telangana — and having a major say in national affairs, remain regional parties.
So how is a national party defined?
— The ECI has laid down the technical criterion for a party to be recognised as a national party. A party may gain or lose national party status from time to time, depending on the fulfilment of these laid-down conditions.
— As per the ECI’s Political Parties and Election Symbols, 2019 handbook, a political party would be considered a national party if:
i. it is ‘recognised’ in four or more states; or
ii. if its candidates polled at least 6% of total valid votes in any four or more states in the last Lok Sabha or Assembly elections and has at least four MPs in the last Lok Sabha polls; or
iii. if it has won at least 2% of the total seats in the Lok Sabha from not less than three states.
—To be recognised as a state party, a party needs:
i. at least 6% vote-share in the last Assembly election and have at least 2 MLAs; or
ii. have 6% vote-share in the last Lok Sabha elections from that state and at least one MP from that state; or
iii. at least 3% of the total number of seats or three seats, whichever is more, in the last Assembly elections; or
iv. at least one MP for every 25 members or any fraction allotted to the state in the Lok Sabha; or
v. have at least 8% of the total valid votes in the last Assembly election or Lok Sabha election from the state.
What are the other national parties?
— As of now, the ECI has recognised eight parties as national parties — the BJP, Congress, Trinamool Congress, CPI(M), CPI, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), and Conrad Sangma’s National People’s Party (NPP), which was recognised in 2019.
(Source: After Gujarat results, AAP set for upgrade: What it takes to become a ‘national party’ in India by Damini Nath)
Point to ponder: What does it mean for a candidate to lose an ‘election deposit’?
Under the Constitution of India, which one of the following is not a fundamental duty?(2011)
a) To vote in public elections
b) To develop the scientific temper
c) To safeguard public property
d) To abide by me Constitution and respect its ideals
Preliminary Examination: Current events of national and international importance.
Main Examination: General Studies II: India and its neighbourhood- relations and Bilateral, regional and global groupings and agreements involving India and/or affecting India’s Interest
Why in news?
— National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval hosted a meeting of his counterparts from five Central Asian countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Turkmenistan — in New Delhi on December 6. All countries except Turkmenistan sent their NSAs; Ashgabat was represented by its ambassador in New Delhi.
— The meeting, which took place in the backdrop of the Russia-Ukraine conflict and the security situation in Afghanistan under the Taliban, flowed from the first India-Central Asia virtual summit of January 27 this year. The leaders of the Central Asian countries had been invited for the Republic Day celebrations, but their in-person participation was scuttled by the Omicron-led Covid surge in India.
Engagement with Central Asia
— The Silk Route connected India with Central Asia from the 3rd century BC to the 15th century AD. From the export of Buddhism to the lasting influence of Bollywood, India has shared old and deep cultural ties with the region.
— In 1955, during a 16-day visit to the erstwhile Soviet Union, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru travelled to Almaty, Tashkent, and Ashgabat, all of which became capitals of newly-independent countries after the 1991 collapse of the USSR.
— Prime Minister P V Narasimha Rao visited Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan in 1992, and Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan in 1995. In 2003, Atal Bihari Vajpayee became the first Prime Minister to visit Tajikistan; he had travelled to Kazakhstan in the previous year. Manmohan Singh visited Uzbekistan in 2006, and the Kazakh capital Astana in 2011.
— Despite India’s focus on its other relationships — the US (nuclear deal), China (2003 border pact), and Pakistan (in the aftermath of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks — diplomatic parts continued to move on Central Asia. India also attended Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summits, which were attended by the Central Asian countries, and put in its request for membership.
— Focussed engagement began with the “Connect Central Asia policy” in 2012, which received a fillip with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to all five Central Asian countries in July 2015 — the first by an Indian Prime Minister.
Battle for strategic space
— Central Asia has always been seen as Russia’s backyard — some 20-30% of the population is of Russian origin, and Russian is spoken widely.
— Central Asia is extremely rich in mineral and natural resources. Kazakhstan has one of the biggest reserves of uranium, besides stores of coal, lead, zinc, gold, and iron ore. The Kyryz Republic is rich in gold and hydro-power, and Turkmenistan has one of the world’s largest reserves of natural gas. Tajikistan has huge hydro-power potential and Uzbekistan has gold, uranium, and natural gas.
— In 2010, a former general in the People’s Liberation Army, Lt Gen Liu Yazhou, wrote: “By custom, people group Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and Tajikistan together with Xinjiang into the Central Asian region. This is a rich piece of cake given to today’s Chinese people by Heaven.”
— That China’s President Xi Jinping chose to visit four Central Asian countries on his first overseas trip in September 2022 after two years of Covid-related disruption, underlines the strategic importance of this region.
— For India, engagement with the Central Asian countries is important because of a range of reasons — security cooperation after the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan; to counter China’s influence in the region; plans for connectivity with Europe including the International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC); to meet its energy needs (Turkmenistan is part of the proposed TAPI gas pipeline); and for reasons of old cultural links and trade potential.
— The recent engagement began with the India-Central Asia foreign ministers’ meeting on December 19, 2021. That meeting was held against the backdrop of the fall of Kabul in mid-August last year, and a little more than a month after the NSAs of Central Asian countries, along with the NSAs of Russia and Iran, attended the Afghanistan-focussed Regional Security Dialogue in New Delhi. Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan share borders with Afghanistan.
— At the December 19 meeting, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar told his Central Asia counterparts that their “concerns and objectives” in Afghanistan were “similar”, and their goal was “a truly inclusive and representative government, the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking, ensuring unhindered humanitarian assistance and preserving the rights of women, children and the minorities”.
— This was followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s January 27, 2022 virtual summit with the leaders of the Central Asian countries, in which he called for an integrated approach to regional cooperation and flagged Afghanistan as a common concern. Two days earlier, China had hosted these leaders at its own summit, which Beijing had swiftly organised after India’s announcement.
— Modi and the five Central Asian leaders decided, among other things, to hold a leaders’ summit every two years; regular meetings among their foreign and trade ministers; a joint working group on Afghanistan; joint counter-terrorism exercises between India and interested Central Asian countries; and a group to operationalise the use of Chabahar port by all five countries.
“We all have the same concerns and objectives for regional security. We are all concerned about the developments in Afghanistan… In this context also, our mutual cooperation has become even more important for regional security and stability,” Modi said.
Imperatives now, for future
— China, which has a direct border with the region, has a bilateral trade of $50 billion with Central Asia, and has made major investments in these countries with its Belt and Road Initiative. India’s trade with the region is a paltry $2 billion.
— The lack of overland transport access — with Pakistan blocking the way — is a major challenge to India’s Central Asia plans. India wants to integrate the INSTC with Chabahar port in Iran to access the resource-rich region. The NSAs, who generally focus on security issues, discussed these connectivity corridors at the December 6 meeting.
— From the security perspective, the NSAs discussed the challenges of extremism, terrorism, and radicalisation in the region. Central Asia is seen as the northern boundary of the Islamic world, and with the Taliban’s return in Afghanistan, the threat of radicalism and possible regrouping of the Islamic State poses a serious security challenge for the countries in the region. NSA Doval said financing is the “lifeblood” of terrorism, and countering it should be a priority.
— India does not want the post-Soviet space to be captured by the Chinese, and the NSAs engagement is a key mechanism in Delhi’s toolkit. In June 2002, Vajpayee had said in Almaty that the new “Silk Route Initiative” of India’s foreign policy seeks to build a new Silk Road of Friendship and Cooperation between India and Central Asia. Twenty years later, New Delhi remains on the road, and on the job.
(Source: India’s Central Asia outreach by Shubhajit Roy )
Point to ponder: Is Central Asia the new battleground for US and China? Why is this region important for India?
What is the importance of developing Chabahar Port by India? (2017)
a) India’s trade with African countries will enormously increase.
b) India’s relations with oil-producing Arab countries will be strengthened.
c) India will not depend on Pakistan for access to Afghanistan and Central Asia.
d) Pakistan will facilitate and protect the installation of a gas pipeline between Iraq and India.