Current Affairs 26th April 2022

No limits to Russia-China ties, says EU chief amid Ukraine war #GS2 #IR

The friendship between Russia and China has “no limits”, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said. Addressing the inaugural session at the annual Raisina Dialogue, which was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, she condemned the Russian aggression in Ukraine but also supported the need to find a “diplomatic solution” to the crisis.

Ms. von der Leyen highlighted the common links such as democracy and the rule of law that bind European states and India.

“They have declared that the friendship between them has ‘no limits’; that there are ‘no forbidden areas of cooperation; this was in February this year. And then, the invasion of Ukraine followed. What can we expect from the ‘new international relations’ that both have called for?” asked Ms. von der Leyen, who described the current relation between Russia and China as an “unrestrained pact”.

The top diplomat of the European Commission recollected her recent visit to Ukraine where she witnessed the ravages of the ongoing conflict and expressed Europe’s collective determination to ensure “strategic failure” of Russia in Ukraine.

She clarified that the strategy to impose sanctions on Russia is not a “standalone solution”. “They are embedded in a broader strategy that has diplomatic and security elements. And this is why we have designed the sanctions in a way to sustain them over a longer period of time.”

CJI mulls listing of pleas on removal of J&K special status #GS2 #Governance

Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana on Monday said he would discuss with other judges and consider listing, after summer vacations, the petitions challenging the abrogation of special status of Jammu and Kashmir under Article 370, which stripped the people of their special privileges.

“Let me see after the vacations… This is a five-judge Bench case… Let me also ask other judges,” the CJI addressed a group of senior advocates, including P. Chidambaram, Kapil Sibal and Shekhar Naphade.

Summer holidays begin from May 23 and the court reopens on July 11. Chief Justice Ramana retires on August 26.

The senior advocates, in an oral mentioning before the CJI, said the Article 370 case had been pending in the Supreme Court for more than two years even as a separate challenge has been filed against the Centre’s decision to appoint a Delimitation Commission to redraw Lok Sabha and Assembly constituencies of the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir.

“Let the case be listed immediately after the vacations,” Mr. Chidambaram urged the court.

The case had not come up after a five-judge Bench led by Justice (as he was then) Ramana, in an order in March 2020, refused to refer the petitions to a larger Bench. Since then, one of the judges on that Bench, Justice R. Subhash Reddy, has retired.

End to special status

The petitions have challenged the Presidential Order of August 5, 2019 which blunted Article 370. The Article had accorded special rights and privileges to the people of Jammu and Kashmir since 1954 in accordance with the Instrument of Accession.

The special status was bestowed on Jammu and Kashmir by incorporating Article 35A in the Constitution. Article 35A was incorporated by an order of President Rajendra Prasad in 1954 on the advice of the Jawaharlal Nehru Cabinet. Parliament was not consulted when the President incorporated Article 35A into the Constitution through a Presidential Order issued under Article 370.

Following the abrogation, the Jammu and Kashmir (Reorganisation) Act of 2019 came into force and bifurcated the State of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh. In a day, Jammu and Kashmir had lost its full Statehood and became a Union Territory of the Central government. The move had been preceded by a state of lockdown in the Valley.

SC seeks steps for children on streets #GS2 #SocialIssues

The Supreme Court on Monday directed the States and Union Territories (UTs) that have not yet framed their own policies to rehabilitate children in street situation (CISS) to immediately implement the Standard Operating Procedure for Care and Protection of Children in Street Situation 2.0 framed by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) for the time being.

A Bench led by Justice L. Nageswara Rao said these States and Union Territories could follow the NCPCR’s standard operating procedure (SOP) until they devised their own. Children could not be made to suffer for the delay on the part of the States and Union Territories to form their rehabilitation policies, the court stated.

Once individual schemes were formed, the court noted, they have to be forwarded to the NCPCR. It expressed its dismay at the “paltry” number of children identified living on the streets. Those identified run into only thousands when there were lakhs of them out there. “In fact, we were told last time that there were about 1.5 million children. Only 17,000 children were identified. Ask your officers to be a little vigilant,” the court addressed the State governments.

Larger intent

In February, the court asked the States to approach the NCPCR with suggestions for changing their rehabilitation policies in accordance with their respective ground realities while at the same time keeping in mind the spirit and larger intent of the NCPCR’s SOP to rescue children from the streets.

On Monday, the court was apprised by amicus curiae advocate Gaurav Agarwal that only Tamil Nadu and Delhi have come up with their own policies to rescue CISS. The court asked both the States to place their schemes before the NCPCR and implement their schemes to save children.

Pakistan objects to hydel projects #GS2 #IR

Pakistan has objected to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Kashmir and the laying of foundation stones for the construction of the Rattle and Kwar hydroelectric projects on the Chenab river, which it claimed was a “direct contravention” of the Indus Waters Treaty.

Mr. Modi visited Jammu and Kashmir on Sunday for the first time for a public engagement since the abrogation of the special powers of the erstwhile State under Article 370 in August 2019. The Pakistan Foreign Office termed his visit to the Valley as “yet another ploy to project fake normalcy” in the Valley.

“Since 5 August 2019, the international community has witnessed many such desperate attempts by India to divert attention from the actual underlying issues in Kashmir,” it said on Sunday. It also criticised the laying of foundation stones for the construction of the Rattle and Kwar hydroelectric projects on the Chenab in Kashmir.

India 3rd highest military spender #GS3 #Defence

World military spending continued to grow in 2021, reaching a record $2.1 trillion despite the economic fallout of the pandemic, according to new data on global military spending published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). The five largest spenders in 2021 were the U.S., China, India, the U.K. and Russia, together accounting for 62% of expenditure. The U.S. and China alone accounted for 52%.

“India’s military spending of $76.6 billion ranked third highest in the world. This was up by 0.9% from 2020 and by 33% from 2012. Amid ongoing tensions and border disputes with China and Pakistan that occasionally spill over into armed clashes, India has prioritised the modernisation of its armed forces and self-reliance in arms production,” the report said.

Stating that military spending in Asia and Oceania totalled $586 billion in 2021, the report noted that spending in the region was 3.5% higher than in 2020, continuing an uninterrupted upward trend dating back to at least 1989. “The increase in 2021 was primarily due to growth in Chinese and Indian military spending. Together, the two countries accounted for 63% of total military expenditure in the region in 2021,” it observed.

“Even amid the economic fallout of the COVID-19, world military spending hit record levels,” the report said quoting Diego Lopes da Silva, Senior Researcher with SIPRI’s Military Expenditure and Arms Production (MEAP) programme.

Russia increased its military expenditure by 2.9% in 2021, to $65.9 billion, at a time when “it was building up its forces along the Ukrainian border. On Ukraine, the report remarked that as it had strengthened its defences against Russia, its military spending “has risen by 72% since the annexation of Crimea in 2014.”

Spending fell in 2021, to $5.9 billion, but still accounted for 3.2% of the country’s GDP, it added.

India repressed critical voices: report #GS2 #Governance

Saying religious freedom conditions in India had “significantly worsened“ in 2021, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), a bipartisan independent body, recommended, for the third year in a row, that India be designated a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ (CPC), the category of governments performing most poorly on religious freedom criteria.

The State Department, which has its own Office of International Religious Freedom, is not bound by the Commission’s recommendations and has not accepted the CPC recommendation for India for the two years.

“During the year, the Indian government escalated its promotion and enforcement of policies — including those promoting a Hindu-nationalist agenda — that negatively affect Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits, and other religious minorities,” the report said.

Structural changes

“The government continued to systemise its ideological vision of a Hindu state at both the national and State levels through the use of both existing and new laws and structural changes hostile to the country’s religious minorities,” it said.

The report section on India said that the government had “repressed critical voices”, especially minority communities and individuals reporting on them.

It mentions the arrest of rights activist Khuran Pervez in Kashmir, and the July 2021 death of octogenarian Father Stan Swamy, arrested in October 2020 under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA).

The report touches on challenges faced by Non-Governmental Organisations, especially with regard to foreign funding and also highlights anti-conversion laws.

“In October 2021, Karnataka’s government ordered a survey of churches and priests in the State and authorised police to conduct a door-to-door inspection to find Hindus who have converted to Christianity,” the report said.

Other countries

Other countries recommended were: Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria and Vietnam. USCIRF recommended that the State Department redesignate Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan as CPCs.

The government has, previously, pushed back against the USCIRF’s grading, questioning its locus standi . In 2020, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar called the Commission an “Organisation of Particular Concern.”

Mr. Jaishankar, who was in Washington two weeks ago for the 2+2 U.S.-India Defence and Foreign Ministry dialogue, said that the state of human rights in India had not been raised at the dialogue. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken had made the general point that the U.S. remains concerned about human right violations in India.

Navy to review security scenario #GS3 #Defence

The first edition of the biannual Naval Commanders Conference began on Monday where the top brass will dwell upon dynamics of the “geostrategic situation in the backdrop of security scenario in the neighbourhood as well as changes emerging due to ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict”.

All Operational and Area Commanders of the Navy are participating in the four-day conference to review major operational, material, logistics, human resource development, training and administrative activities.

“The Conference will focus on addressing the contemporary security paradigms while seeking ways to enhance combat capability of the Navy and make operations more effective and efficient. A detailed review of the performance of weapons and sensors, readiness of Naval platforms, ongoing Naval projects — with focus on ways to enhance indigenisation through ‘Make in India’ — will be undertaken by the Commanders,” Navy Spokesperson Cdr. Vivek Madhwal said in a statement.

The Conference would also dwell upon dynamics of the geostrategic situation of the region against the backdrop of recent international developments.

The chiefs of the Army and the Air Force will also interact with the Naval Commanders and will also discuss avenues of augmenting tri-service synergy and readiness, the Navy said. Defence Minister Rajnath Singh will address the conference and External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar is also expected to address and interact with the Naval Commanders.

Weapon trials

Officials said that the Navy recently carried out weapon engagement and missile firing drills on the western seaboard. The multiple ordnance on target missions included participation of 15 warships and submarines and a large number of maritime patrol aircraft, integral helicopters, fighter aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles, an official said.

The missile firings undertaken in mid-April were focused on validating combat worthiness of various weapon systems deployed on the frontline units, which included the Veer Class, Talwar Class and Brahmaputra Class warships carrying out anti-air engagements against high-speed sea-skimming air targets in tactical scenarios.

In another engagement, the Brahmaputra class ship sank a decommissioned naval warship. An underwater launched missile successfully hit its target at maximum range, proving the lethality and versatility of the Indian submarines, the official said.

The Navy is closely monitoring the war in Ukraine, given its dependence for spares and supplies on Russia and Ukraine. The Navy’s operational tasking and engagements have gone up significantly in the past few years in tune with the global focus on the Indo-Pacific. During the pandemic in the past two years, Indian Navy ships have undertaken multiple COVID-related outreach missions to provide food and medical aid to littoral nations in the Indian Ocean Region and beyond.

Anganwadi workers entitled to gratuity #GS2 #SocialIssues

The Supreme Court on Monday held that anganwadi workers and helpers taking care of the nutrition needs of nearly 158 million children who were considered the “future resource of the country”, were entitled to gratuity, a basic social security measure.

A Bench of Justices Ajay Rastogi and A.K. Oka rued how these workers and helpers, who performed a bouquet of vital services at the grassroots level and were often the bridge between the government and beneficiaries under the National Food Security Act and the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), were made to fight so hard and for so long for the recognition of their right to be paid gratuity under the Payment of Gratuity Act, 1972.

The judgment came in an appeal filed by anganwadi workers and organisations represented by senior advocates Sanjay Parikh and P.V. Surendranath and advocate Subhash Chandran.

Statutory obligation

“Gratuity is a gesture to appreciate the efforts of a person towards the betterment, development and prosperity of an establishment and that is the reason for which gratuity is considered to be social security, and with passage of time, it has become a statutory obligation on the part of employers,” Justice Rastogi observed in the verdict.

The court underscored that it was time for the Centre and the States to “collectively consider” bettering the service conditions of anganwadi workers and helpers.

It warned that a lack of motivation among them would have a crippling effect on the multiple tasks they performed.

Backbone of ICDS

Anganwadi workers and helpers served in disadvantaged areas and catered to the needs of underprivileged groups. They formed the backbone of the ICDS. Not only children but also women benefited from the services provided by the anganwadi centres.

“Socialised childcare contributes to the liberation of women… It lightens the burden of looking after children,” the court noted. It said the ICDS deserved far greater attention in public policy. “The scheme acts as an “institutional mechanism for realisation of child and women rights. Yet these services are regarded as State largesse rather than as enforceable entitlements,” the court observed in a 72-page judgment.

Labour participation dips to 40% from 46% in six years #GS3 #Economy

Only 40% of Indians of legal working age were employed or were looking for jobs in 2021-22. In comparison, the labour force participation rate was above 46% in 2016-17, according to data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy.

In absolute terms, India’s labour force has shrunk from about 445 million to 435 million in the six years. Currently, about 1,085 million Indians are aged 15 or above and can be legally employed.

Labour force participation among women, which was already in low double digits, has declined further. In 2016-17, about 15% women were employed or looking for jobs. This metric dipped to 9.2% in 2021-22.

Among men, the participation rate declined to 67%, from more than 74%. The dip in the participation rate was higher in the urban areas.

The rate slid to 37.5% from 44.7% in urban areas — a more than seven percentage-point drop. The rate in rural areas fell to 41.4% from 46.9%. Of the 24 States with data, 23 saw participation rates decline in March 2022 compared with March 2016.

The rate dropped in all the States, except in Rajasthan. The slide was more pronounced in two southern States, which had a high participation rate to start with.

Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu had participation rates of 54% and 56%, respectively, in March 2016, and witnessed the sharpest declines. Between 2016 and 2022, participation rates fell 20 percentage points and 17 percentage points for Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh respectively.