The Indian Express’ UPSC weekly news express covers some of the most important topics of current affairs news from this week to help you prepare for UPSC-CSE. Try out the MCQs, Points to ponder and check your answers provided towards the end of the article.
Preliminary Examination: Current events of national and international importance.
Main Examination: General Studies II: International Affairs
Why in news?
— On Wednesday (November 23), Defence Minister Rajnath Singh addressed the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) Defence Ministers’ meeting in Cambodia. He expressed hope that the ongoing negotiations on the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea will be consistent with international law, particularly the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
— The South China Sea is one of the most contentious regions on the planet with multiple countries having territorial claims over its waters and islands. Amidst China’s growing military aggression, the fate of the region has become of global concern.
What has the conflict in the South China Sea been about?
— The South China Sea lies just south of the Chinese mainland and is bordered by the countries of Brunei, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. As early as the 1970s, these countries began to claim islands (mostly uninhabited) throughout the sea to lay control over the various resources that the region possessed, such as untapped oil reserves, natural gas, and fishing areas. It also has some of the most active shipping lanes on the planet.
— Today, China’s sweeping claims over the sea have antagonised other countries in the region. China claims the sea as its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), arguing that other countries do not have the right to conduct any military or economic operation without its consent.
— This claim is disputed by the southeast Asian countries and in 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague issued its ruling on a claim brought against China by the Philippines under UNCLOS. It ruled in favour of the Philippines on almost every count. However, China, which itself is a signatory to UNCLOS, refused to acknowledge the court’s authority.
— Recent satellite imagery of the region has had destabilising effects, showing China’s efforts to not only increase the size of existing islands but create artificial islands across the region. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, China has constructed ports, military installations, and airstrips in these islands — particularly in the Paracel and Spratly Islands, where it has twenty and seven outposts, respectively. China has also militarised Woody Island by deploying fighter jets, cruise missiles, and a radar system.
— To protect the balance of power in the region, countries like the United States and Japan have come to the aid of the south-east Asian countries, providing them with military and economic aid.
What is the Code of Conduct for the South China Sea?
— In 1995, China illegally occupied the Mischief Reef, just 210 km from the Philippine island of Palawan. Other ASEAN countries saw it as a blatant attempt to alter the status quo in the region.
— As a response, ASEAN issued a Joint Communiqué in 1996 expressing concern over the situation in the South China Sea and calling “for the peaceful resolution of the dispute and self-restraint by parties concerned.” Further, a regional code of conduct was proposed, which would “lay the foundation for long term stability in the area and foster understanding among claimant countries.”
— After years of painful negotiation between ASEAN and China, a non-binding, aspirational Declaration of Conduct (DOC) in the South China Sea was arrived at in 2002. This was supposed to be an important stepping stone for the creation of a binding Code of Conduct that would ensure peace and stability in the region. However, China continued occupying more islands and resorting to military activities, causing ASEAN countries to express concerns about their sovereignty and interests.
— For the past 20 years, this has largely been the reality of the region. On one hand, China has stonewalled any attempts to arrive at a binding Code of Conduct. On the other, it has continued its own expansionist policies, making the region extremely volatile.
— According to Ian Storey, a senior fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, there have been three major sticking points that have stalled any progress towards a Code of Conduct.
Storey wrote in Foreign Policy, “First, what should the geographical scope of the agreement be? Should it include the Paracel Islands, as Vietnam wants but China doesn’t, or Scarborough Shoal, as the Philippines wants but China doesn’t. Second, should the COC [code of conduct] include a list of dos and don’ts? Beijing won’t want to tie its hands by agreeing to a ban on those activities. Third, should the COC be legally binding? Most ASEAN member states appear to support that, but China is opposed.”
Point to ponder: How the South China Sea situation plays out will be critical for India’s security ?
Which of the following countries border South China Sea?
a) 1, 3, 4, 6
b) 2,3, 4, 5
c) 1, 3, 4, 5, 6
d) 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Preliminary Examination: Current events of national and international importance.
Main Examination: General Studies II: Issues relating to development and management of Social Sector/Services relating to Health, Education, Human Resources.
Why in news?
— The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on Monday (November 21) unveiled the National Suicide Prevention Strategy — the first-of-its-kind policy formulated by the government to prevent suicides as a public health priority.
— According to the ministry, the policy that will set the stage for promotion of mental health and prevention of suicides in the coming decade.
— The goal of the strategy is to reduce suicide mortality in the country by 10 per cent by 2023. The strategy provides a framework for multiple stakeholders to implement activities for prevention of suicides in the country.
National Suicide Prevention Strategy: Objectives
— There are three main objectives of the strategy.
First, it seeks to establish effective surveillance mechanisms for suicide within the next three years.
Second, it seeks to establish psychiatric outpatient departments that will provide suicide prevention services through the District Mental Health Programme in all districts within the next five years.
Third, it aims to integrate a mental well-being curriculum in all educational institutions within the next eight years.
The fourth objective of the National Suicide Prevention Strategy is to strengthen surveillance of suicide and further generation of evidence through evaluation, that will ensure improvement in the programme quality.
Stakeholders in implementation framework
— The implementation framework of the National Suicide Prevention Strategy envisions five key stakeholders responsible for realising the objectives. These include national-level ministerial stakeholders, state-level governmental stakeholders, district-level governmental stakeholders, NIMHANS-Bangalore and other top mental health institutes, and strategic collaborators.
– Reinforcing leadership, partnerships and institutional capacity in the country
– Enhancing the capacity of health services to provide suicide prevention services
– Developing community resilience and societal support for suicide prevention and reduce stigma associated with suicidal behaviours.
Suicides in India: What’s the current scenario?
— According to the annual report of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), released in August, 1.64 lakh people died by suicide in 2021 — an increase of 7.2 per cent from 2020. This is 10 per cent higher than the COVID deaths (1.48 lakh) in India in 2020, and 6.8 times the maternal deaths (23,800) in the same year.
— The NCRB report also stated that more than 1,00,000 people die by suicide in the country every year. A total of 25,891 suicides were reported in the 53 megacities of the country during 2021, with the highest in Delhi.
— In the past three years, the suicide rate in the country has increased from 10.2 to 11.3 per 1,00,000 population. Most suicides in India are by youth and middle-aged adults — with 65 per cent of the suicides in 2020 being reported in the age group of 18-45 years.
Ongoing suicide prevention initiatives in India
— The National Mental Health Policy (2014) sees prevention of mental disorders, reduction of suicide and attempted suicide as core priority areas.
— The Mental Healthcare Act 2017 brought in some necessary changes. The Act that came into force from May 2018 effectively decriminalised attempted suicide, which was punishable under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code. It ensured that the individuals who have attempted suicide are offered opportunities for rehabilitation from the government as opposed to being tried or punished.
— Several national programmes such as the National Mental Health Program, National Palliative Care Program, Ayushman Bharat and Nasha Mukti Abhiyaan Task Force are also in place.
(Source: National Suicide Prevention Strategy: Framework and objectives by Sheji S Edathara )
Point to ponder: Suicide is the epidemic we are overlooking. Do you agree?
With respect to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), consider the following statements
1. NCRB, headquartered in New Delhi, was set-up in 1986 under the Ministry of Health.
2. ‘Accidental Deaths and Suicides’ is one of its major publication.
Which of the statements is/are correct?
a) Only 1 b) Only 2
c) Both 1 and 2 d) Neither 1 nor 2
Preliminary Examination: Economic and Social Development
Mains Examination: General Studies I: Population and associated issues
Why in news?
—This year and the next will see two landmark demographic events. In 2022, China will for the first time register an absolute decline in its population. And in 2023, India’s population, projected by the United Nations to reach 1,428.63 million, will surpass China’s 1,425.67 million.
Mortality and fertility
— Mortality falls with increased education levels, public health and vaccination programmes, access to food and medical care, and provision of safe drinking water and sanitation facilities. The crude death rate (CDR) — the number of persons dying per year per 1,000 population — was 23.2 for China and 22.2 for India in 1950. It fell to single digits for China first in 1974 (to 9.5) and for India in 1994 (9.8), and further to 7.3-7.4 for both in 2020.
— Another mortality indicator is life expectancy at birth. Between 1950 and 2020, it went up from 43.7 to 78.1 years for China and from 41.7 to 70.1 years for India.
— Reduction in mortality normally leads to a rising population. A drop in fertility, on the other hand, slows down population growth, ultimately resulting in absolute declines. The total fertility rate (TFR) — the number of babies an average woman bears over her lifetime — was as high as 5.8 for China and 5.7 for India in 1950.
— The TFR has fallen sharply for India in the last three decades. Between 1992-93 and 2019-21, it came down from 3.4 to 2; the fall was especially significant in the rural areas. In 1992-93, the average rural Indian woman produced one extra child compared to her urban counterpart (3.7 versus 2.7). By 2019-21, that gap had halved (2.1 versus 1.6).
— A TFR of 2.1 is considered as “replacement-level fertility”. Simply understood, a woman having two children basically replaces herself and her partner with two new lives. Since all infants may not survive to realise their reproductive potential, the replacement TFR is taken at slightly above two. It ensures that each generation replaces itself.
If India’s TFR is already below-replacement, why is its population still increasing?
Sustained lows necessary
— The TFR is the average number of births by women aged 15-49 based on surveys for a particular period/year. Populations can keep growing even with TFRs falling. De-growth requires TFRs to remain below replacement levels for extended periods. The effects of that — fewer children today becoming parents tomorrow and procreating just as much or less — may reflect only after a couple of generations.
— China’s TFR dipped below replacement first in 1991, which was almost 30 years before India’s. Recall that the CDR decline below 10, too, happened two decades earlier for China. Not surprising, China’s population more than doubled from 544 million in 1950 to 1.1 billion in 1987 — underpinned by falling CDRs — and continued to grow, peaking at 1,426 million in 2021. It took over 30 years for below-replacement fertility rates to translate into negative population growth.
China faces a crisis
— China’s TFR, according to its 2020 Census, was 1.3 births per woman — marginally up from the 1.2 in the 2010 and 2000 censuses, but way below the replacement rate of 2.1. China officially ended its one-child policy, introduced in 1980, from 2016. The UN, nevertheless, projects its total population at 1.31 billion in 2050, a 113 million-plus drop from the 2021 peak.
— The real crisis for China, however, is the decline in its population that is of prime working age. The proportion of the population aged between 20 and 59 years crossed 50% in 1987 and peaked at 61.5% in 2011. This period also coincided with high economic growth, with China successfully harnessing the “demographic dividend” that comes from a young labour force.
— If there is a large population that’s able to work and earn, not only will there be relatively fewer people to support those too old or too young — but also greater tax revenues and savings potential from the generation of incomes. As these are directed to finance investments, a virtuous cycle of growth is unleashed — as indeed it happened in China.
— But that cycle has started to reverse, and the share of China’s working-age population is projected to fall below 50% by 2045. In short, China faces the prospect of a dwindling labour force having to support a rapidly aging population.
India has an opportunity
— India has just begun seeing fertility rates fall to replacement levels, including in rural areas. The latter has to do with the spread of education — and, perhaps, also farm mechanisation and fragmentation of landholdings. Reduced labour requirement in agricultural operations and smaller holdings make it that much less necessary to have large families working the land.
— But even with fertility rate declines, India’s population is projected to expand and de-grow only after touching 1.7 billion about 40 years from now. More important is the working-age population: its share in the overall population crossed 50% only in 2007, and will peak at 57% towards the mid-2030s.
— In absolute terms, the population aged 20-59 years will increase from 760 million in 2020 to nearly 920 million in 2045. The median age of India’s population also will not go up much — from 27.3 years in 2020 to 38.1 in 2050 — adding up to a less depressing prospect than China’s.
— Overall then, India has a window of opportunity well into the 2040s for reaping its “demographic dividend”, like China did from the late 1980s until up to 2015. That is, of course, contingent upon the creation of meaningful employment opportunities for a young population.
— Agriculture accounted for around 65% of the country’s employed labour force in 1993-94. That share fell significantly to 49% by 2011-12. But the trend has slowed, if not reversed, thereafter.
— Going forward, the challenge before India’s policymakers is to promote growth that generates jobs outside of agriculture. These mustn’t merely be in construction and low-paid informal services.
— The surplus labour from farms should find employment in sectors — manufacturing and modern services — where productivity, value-addition and average incomes are higher. In the absence of such structural transformation, the “demographic dividend” could well turn into a “demographic nightmare”.
( Source: China and India population: Implications of slowing dragon, racing elephant by Harish Damodaran)
Point to ponder: With India set to become most populous nation how can it be prosperous too?
To obtain full benefits of demographic dividend, what should India do?
a) Promoting skill development
b) Introducing more social security schemes
c) Reducing infant mortality rate
d) Privatization of higher education
Why in news?
— Last month, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change gave environmental clearance for the ambitious Rs 72,000 crore development project on the strategically important Great Nicobar Island. The project is to be implemented in three phases over the next 30 years.
— A “greenfield city” has been proposed, including an International Container Transhipment Terminal (ICTT), a greenfield international airport, a power plant, and a township for the personnel who will implement the project.
— The port will be controlled by the Indian Navy, while the airport will have dual military-civilian functions and will cater to tourism as well. Roads, public transport, water supply and waste management facilities, and several hotels have been planned to cater to tourists.
— A total 166.1 sq km along the southeastern and southern coasts of the island have been identified for project along a coastal strip of width between 2 km and 4 km. Some 130 sq km of forests have been sanctioned for diversion, and 9.64 lakh trees are likely to be felled.
— Development activities are proposed to commence in the current financial year, and the port is expected to be commissioned by 2027–28. More than 1 lakh new direct jobs and 1.5 lakh indirect jobs are likely to be created on the island over the period of development.
— Great Nicobar, the southernmost of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, has an area of 910 sq km. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands are a cluster of about 836 islands in the eastern Bay of Bengal, the two groups of which are separated by the 150-km wide Ten Degree Channel. The Andaman Islands lie to the north of the channel, and the Nicobar Islands to the south.
— Indira Point on the southern tip of Great Nicobar Island is India’s southernmost point, less than 150 km from the northernmost island of the Indonesian archipelago. Great Nicobar is home to two national parks, a biosphere reserve, and the Shompen and Nicobarese tribal peoples, along with ex-servicemen from Punjab, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh who were settled on the island in the 1970s.
— The Shompen are hunter-gatherers who depend on forest and marine resources for sustenance. The Nicobarese, who lived along the west coast of the island were mostly relocated after the 2004 tsunami. An estimated 237 Shompen and 1,094 Nicobarese individuals now live in a 751 sq km tribal reserve, some 84 sq km of which is proposed to be denotified. The approximately 8,000 settlers who live on the island are engaged in agriculture, horticulture, and fishing.
— The Great Nicobar Island has tropical wet evergreen forests, mountain ranges reaching almost 650 m above sea level, and coastal plains. Fourteen species of mammals, 71 species of birds, 26 species of reptiles, 10 species of amphibians, and 113 species of fish are found on the island, some of which are endangered. The leatherback sea turtle is the island’s flagship species.
— The island has a lot of tourism potential, but the government’s greater goal is to leverage the locational advantage of the island for economic and strategic reasons.
— Great Nicobar is equidistant from Colombo to the southwest and Port Klang and Singapore to the southeast, and positioned close to the East-West international shipping corridor, through which a very large part of the world’s shipping trade passes. The proposed ICTT can potentially become a hub for cargo ships travelling on this route.
— The proposal to develop Great Nicobar was first floated in the 1970s, and its importance for national security and consolidation of the Indian Ocean Region has been repeatedly underlined. Increasing Chinese assertion in the Bay of Bengal and the Indo-Pacific has added great urgency to this imperative in recent years.
— The project site is outside the eco-sensitive zones of Campbell Bay and Galathea National Park. The Centre has said that the development area is only a small percentage of the area of the island and its forest cover, and that 15 per cent of the development area itself will be green cover and open spaces.
— The proposed massive infrastructure development in an ecologically important and fragile region, including the felling of almost a million trees, has alarmed many environmentalists. The loss of tree cover will not only affect the flora and fauna on the island, it will also lead to increased runoff and sediment deposits in the ocean, impacting the coral reefs in the area, they have cautioned.
— Coral reefs, already under threat from warming oceans, are of enormous ecological importance. Environmentalists have also flagged the loss of mangroves on the island as a result of the development project.
— India has successfully translocated a coral reef from the Gulf of Mannar to the Gulf of Kutch earlier. The Zoological Survey of India is currently in the process of assessing how much of the reef will have to be relocated for the project. The government has said that a conservation plan for the leatherback turtle is also being put in place.
— According to the government, expediting the project is of paramount national security and strategic importance. Officials said that after the grant of stage I clearance on October 27, all aspects will be carefully weighed before final approval is granted.
(Source: Development of Great Nicobar: strategic imperative and ecological concerns by Esha Roy)
Which one of the following pairs of islands is separated from each other by the ‘Ten Degree Channel’? (2014)
(a) Andaman and Nicobar
(b) Nicobar and Sumatra
(c) Maldives and Lakshadweep
(d) Sumatra and Java
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