Current Affairs 22nd April 2022

Maldives President Solih bans ‘India Out’ campaign #GS2 #IR

Maldivian President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih issued a decree banning the ‘India Out’ campaign, now led by former President Abdulla Yameen, terming it a “threat to national security.”

Stating that the government’s policy was to provide freedom of expression and freedom of assembly guaranteed under the Constitution “to its fullest extent”, and to “uphold democratic values”, the Presidential order said the campaign against India “exploited” the freedoms and “intends to disrupt” the long-standing bilateral relations between the Maldives and India as well as efforts to maintain peace and security in the region.

The move follows a recent decision by the Maldives’s National Security Council that the campaign “to incite hatred against India” is a “threat” to national security.

The ‘India Out’ campaign, started and sustained by critics of the Solih administration, gained prominence in recent months with former President Yameen spearheading it. The campaign accuses the Maldivian government of “allowing” Indian military presence in the island nation – the government has repeatedly denied it – and, of “being a puppet” of New Delhi. President Solih has opted for an ‘India first’ foreign policy and has said he is unapologetic about Male’s close ties with New Delhi.

The Progressive Congress Coalition, representing Mr. Yameen’s political camp, said it “strongly condemns the unconstitutional executive order” by President Solih, “suspending” people’s right to freedom of expression opposing “the illegal stationing of Indian Military forces” in the Maldives. “This marks a dark day in the history of the Maldives as for the first time a sitting President has actively elected to abandon his own people and protect the interests of a foreign military,” the coalition said in a statement.

Criticising the ‘India Out’ campaign in Parliament earlier, Speaker and former President Mohamed Nasheed said the ‘India Out’ banners put up at Mr. Yameen’s residence needed to be removed.  Maldives police subsequently removed the banner, according to local media reports.

“Our Constitution is very clear on the question of freedom of expression, and that it has boundaries, and ends when it infringes on someone else’s [freedom]. This campaign is clearly aimed at creating differences and hatred, that is not in the interest of anyone.

Johnson starts India visit from Gujarat #GS2 #Governance

U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson arrived in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, on Thursday morning, on his first visit to India. He was received at the airport by the Governor, Chief Minister and other top officials. The visiting Prime Minister was accorded a regal welcome with dancers and musicians performing along the four-kilometre route from the airport to a hotel in Ahmedabad.

His brief stay in Ahmedabad began with a visit to Mahatma Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram, where he spent nearly 30 minutes.

“It is an immense privilege to come to the ashram of this extraordinary man, and to understand how he mobilised such simple principles of truth and non-violence to change the world for better,” Mr. Johnson wrote in the visitors’ book at the Gandhi Ashram. He was accompanied by the Chief Minister and a few top officials.

Subsequently, he met Ahmedabad-based industrialist Gautam Adani to discuss business and investment opportunities.

“Honoured to host Boris Johnson, the first U.K. PM to visit Gujarat, at Adani HQ. Delighted to support climate & sustainability agenda with focus on renewables, green H2 & new energy. Will also work with U.K. companies to co-create defence & aerospace technologies,” Mr. Adani tweeted after receiving Mr. Johnson at the company’s sprawling headquarters on SG Highway, Ahmedabad.

After meeting Mr. Adani, Mr. Johnson flew by a special chopper to Halol, near Vadodara, to visit a new factory set up by leading U.K.-based JCB company to manufacture machines and equipment. Here also, he was accompanied by the Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel.

On return from Halol, he visited the Akshardham temple and Biotechnology University in Gandhinagar. During the course of his visit, the British Prime Minister is expected to announce major investments and trade in key industries in the country.

Ukraine issue

Mr. Johnson said his country had already raised the Ukraine war issue with Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a diplomatic level, while underlining that India and Russia shared “a very different relationships historically”.

Meanwhile, ahead of his visit, Downing Street had said in a statement that “the visit will begin from Ahmedabad on Thursday (21st April) to meet with leading businesses and discuss the U.K. and India’s thriving commercial, trade and people links.”

“This will be the first time a U.K. Prime Minister will visit Gujarat, India’s fifth-largest State and the ancestral home of around half of the British-Indian population in the U.K..”

PM asks civil servants to prioritise ‘Nation First’ #GS4 #Ethics

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday said the civil servants’ prime responsibility was the unity and integrity of the country, on which there could not be any compromise.

“Wherever we are in the system, our prime responsibility is the unity and integrity of the country, there cannot be any compromise. Every decision of ours should be evaluated on its capacity to provide strength to the country’s unity and integrity. ‘Nation First’ should always inform our decisions,” Mr. Modi said at a Civil Services Day event.

He said government functionaries should be committed to three goals: bringing a positive change in the life of common people, taking decisions in the global context, and strengthening the country’s unity and integrity.

Mr. Modi, who also conferred the Prime Minister’s Awards for Excellence in Public Administration, suggested that all training academies could virtually share the process and experiences of the award winners.

The Prime Minister’s Awards for Excellence in Public Administration-2021 for innovation went to the Education Department in Gujarat, Agriculture Department-Ladakh, Department of Defence Production, Departments of Land Resources, West Champaran, Bihar, and Bongaigaon, Assam; and for seamless end-to-end service delivery without human intervention to Karnataka; New Delhi Municipal Council.

Under the PM Svanidhi Yojana category, Varanasi in U.P. and Anantnag in Jammu & Kashmir were adjudged winners; while for the one-district-one-product category, the award went to Darbhanga in Bihar and Siddharthnagar in Uttar Pradesh; for Poshan Abhiyaan to Kumuram Bheem Asifabad, Telangana, and Datia in Madhya Pradesh; and for the “Khelo India” scheme to Churu in Rajasthan and Bishnupur in Manipur.

India has never posed a threat to any country, says Modi #GS2 #IR

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday released a commemorative coin and postage stamp to mark the 400th birth anniversary of Guru Tegh Bahadur, and recalled the sacrifice of the ninth Sikh guru in protecting culture.

Mr. Modi addressed the gathering at the Red Fort, where a two-day celebration of the 400th birth anniversary of Guru Tegh Bahadur culminated on Thursday night. The Prime Minister said the Red Fort had witnessed many events in history, including the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur. Guru Tegh Bahadur was executed in the nearby Chandni Chowk, while the order for his beheading was issued from the Red Fort.

Mr. Modi said there was a “storm of religious fanaticism in the country at that time”, and Guru Tegh Bahadur was the great hope for India to save its identity and stand against Mughal emperor Aurangzeb’s tyranny.

The sacrifice of Guru Tegh Bahadur had inspired many generations to live and die “to protect the dignity of their culture”, he said.

“Great powers have disappeared, big storms have calmed, but India is still standing, moving ahead,” Mr. Modi said.

Mr. Modi said the government was working on connecting the centres of Sikh pilgrimage. He said India had never posed a threat to any country or society and, even today, India thought about the welfare of the whole world.

Citing efforts made by his government for the community, including its decision to observe Veer Bal Diwas on December 20 to commemorate the sacrifice of Guru Gobind Singh’s sons, Mr Modi said the Citizenship (Amendment) Act has paved the way for granting citizenship to families of Sikhs and other minorities that have come to India from neighbouring countries. “All this was possible because the Gurus have taught us to give primacy to humanity. Love and harmony are part of our values,” Mr. Modi said.

The government has shown its commitment to ‘Guru seva’ by constructing the Kartarpur Sahib corridor for which people had been waiting for decades, he added.

Earlier as part of the two-day celebrations organised by the Culture Ministry, the story of Guru Tegh Bahadur’s life was depicted through a sound-and-light show projected onto the facade of the Red Fort. Delhi Sikh Gurdwara management committee president Harmeet Singh Kalka called upon the Prime Minister to fulfil two demands — setting up a Sikh university in Delhi and naming the Indira Gandhi International Airport after Guru Tegh Bahadur.

India-U.S. ties vital for global security: Rajnath #GS2 #IR

When seen from the perspective of strategic convergence, India and the U.S. share a commitment to democracy, pluralism and the rule of law, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said on Thursday.

Virtually addressing the 30th annual general meeting of the American Chamber of Commerce in India on Thursday, he underscored that the India-U.S. “comprehensive global strategic partnership” was of “critical importance” for international peace, stability and prosperity. He called upon American companies for joint research and development, and manufacturing and maintenance of defence equipment, to achieve the Indian government’s vision of “Make in India, Make for the world”.

Addressing the Army Commanders’ Conference later, Mr. Singh, referring to the situation along the country’s northern borders, expressed full confidence that while the troops were standing firm, the ongoing talks for peaceful resolution would continue, and disengagement and de-escalation were the way forward.

“It is our ‘whole of government’ approach to ensure availability of best weapons, equipment and clothing to our troops braving extreme weather and hostile forces to defend our territorial integrity,” Mr. Singh said.

Stressing that the present, complex world situation affects everyone globally, Mr. Singh said: “Unconventional and asymmetric warfare, including hybrid war, will be part of the future conventional wars. Cyber, information, communication, trade and finance have all become an inseparable part of future conflicts. This necessitates that the armed forces will have to keep all these facets in consideration while planning and formulating strategies.”

He said Atmanirbhar Bharat is a big step towards self-reliance in defence. In 2021-22, Rs. 40,000 crore worth of contracts by the Army are being awarded to Indian vendors.

Expert body needed on man-animal conflict: House panel #GS3 #Environment

The Environment Ministry must constitute an advisory body of experts to tackle growing instances of human-animal conflict, according to a report by the Standing Committee on Science, Technology, Environment and Climate Change headed by Rajya Sabha member Jairam Ramesh.

The report analyses the Wildlife (Protection) Amendment Bill, 2021 tabled in the Lok Sabha in December 2021. The Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 provides a legal framework for the protection of various species of wild animals and plants. While it has been amended several times, the latest set of proposed amendments by the Environment Ministry were to make it more compliant with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), to which India is a signatory.

One of the clauses proposed by the Ministry was to have a Standing Committee of the State Board for Wildlife (SBWL) to make the functioning of the body “more purposive”, but the report points out that several independent experts and bodies had expressed their concern that such a body would be packed with official members, exercise all powers of the SBWL and take decisions independent of the SBWL itself and “end up being a rubber stamp for faster clearances of projects”. The report instead suggests that were such a body to be constituted, it should have at least one-third of the non-official members of the SBWL, at least three institutional members and the Director of the Wildlife Institute of India or his/her nominee.

A wildlife standing committee is usually a subset of members that reports to a wider Board, in the case of States where it is headed by the Chief Minister and in charge of executing day-to-day matters.

While Standing Committee reports on Bills usually stick to criticism of the text of the Bill, this report devoted space to the question of human-animal conflict — a subject not mentioned in the proposed amendments — as it was “a complex issue as serious as hunting” and needed “legislative backing”.

The report recommends an advisory committee to be headed by the Chief Wildlife Warden, who can consult the committee to act appropriately. “Such a committee with few members and in-depth technical knowledge for evolving effective site-specific plans/ mitigation strategies including recommendations on changing cropping patterns and for taking critical decisions at short notice, empowered under the law is necessary,” the report noted.

NITI Aayog targets EV push with battery-swapping policy #GS3 #Economy

The NITI Aayog on Thursday released a draft battery-swapping policy targeted at electric two- and three-wheelers as the government think tank aims to expedite large-scale adoption of EVs.

The policy proposals include incentives for EVs with swappable batteries, subsidies to firms manufacturing swappable batteries, technical and testing requirements, and reduction of GST among other things.

Battery swapping involves exchanging discharged batteries for charged ones, delinking the vehicle and fuel and hence, reducing the upfront cost of the vehicles.

The draft policy recommends prioritising all metropolitan cities with a population greater than four million for development of battery-swapping networks under the first phase (1-2) years, followed by all major cities such as State capitals, UT headquarters and cities with population greater than 5 lakh in the next 2-3 years.

Inviting stakeholder comments till June 5, the think tank states that the policy would be valid from the date of its public notification till March 31, 2025. The NITI Aayog has also proposed that demand-side incentives offered under existing or new schemes for EV purchase could be made available to EVs with swappable batteries eligible under this policy.

To ensure battery safety and security of assets, swappable batteries would be equipped with advanced features such as IoT-based battery monitoring systems, remote monitoring and immobilisation capabilities, as well as other required control features.