Current Affairs 1st February

A bullet through an island’s heart #GS3 #Economy

A plan for the sustainable and holistic development of the 680 sq km, fragile Little Andaman Island in the Andaman and Nicobar group has raised the alarm among conservationists.

The ‘Sustainable Development of Little Andaman Island – Vision Document’, is the NITI Aayog’s proposal to leverage the strategic location and natural features of the island. This, the vision says, will be done by building a new greenfield coastal city there, that will be developed as a free trade zone and will compete with Singapore and Hong Kong.

Three zones

The proposal is pivoted along three development anchors and zones.

Zone 1 — spread over 102 sq km along the east coast of Little Andaman — will be the financial district and medi city and will include an aerocity, and a tourism and hospital district. 

Spread over 85 sq km of pristine forest, Zone 2, the leisure zone, will have a film city, a residential district and a tourism SEZ.

Zone 3 — on 52 sq km of pristine forest — will be a nature zone, further categorised into three districts: an exclusive forest resort, a nature healing district and a nature retreat, all on the western coast.

There will be ‘underwater’ resorts, casinos, golf courses, convention centres, plug-and-play office complexes, a drone port with fully automated drone delivery system, nature cure institutes and more.

An international airport capable of handling all types of aircraft will be central to this development vision because “all successful case studies and references” studied by the visioning team indicate that an international airport is key for development.

The only jetty on the island will be expanded and a marina will be developed next to the tourist entertainment district. A 100 km greenfield ring road will be constructed parallel to the coastline from east to west and will be supplemented with a mass rapid transit network with stations at regular intervals.

The vision plan is not in the public domain, even though it is said to have been finalised months ago. The comparison with Singapore, for instance, is one key. It has a map of Little Andaman overlaid on Singapore’s, along with the following statistics: “The population density of the Andaman and Nicobar is 47 people per sq km while it’s (sic) 7,615 persons per sq km in Singapore. Its per capita income is $1,789 compared to Singapore’s $55,182.”

‘Blocks’ to development

There are certain factors, the vision document notes, that could prevent Little Andaman from becoming the new Singapore — factors that are “stopping us from developing these into veritable jewels for the country”. 

These include lack of good connectivity with Indian mainland and global cities, a fragile biodiversity and natural ecosystems and certain Supreme Court notifications that pose an impediment to development. Another key factor is the “presence of indigenous tribes and concerns for their welfare”.

There are other concrete obstacles that the vision takes note of: 95% of Little Andaman is covered in forest, a large part of it the pristine evergreen type. Some 640 sq km of the island is Reserve Forest under the Indian Forest Act, and nearly 450 sq km is protected as the Onge Tribal Reserve, creating a unique and rare socio-ecological-historical complex of high importance.

The vision needs 240 sq km (35%) of this land and the solutions suggested are simple and straightforward — de-reserve 32% of the reserved forest and de-notify 138 sq km or 31% of the tribal reserve. And if the tribals become an impediment, the vision suggests that they “can be relocated to other parts of the island”.

The vision document has maps with no legends or explanations and uses inappropriate photographs plagiarised from the Internet. It talks of conservation of national park/wildlife sanctuary on Little Andaman when none exist here and it has no mention of the geological vulnerability of the place, which was amongst the worst-affected in the earthquake-tsunami combination in 2004. 

The waves hit Little Andaman so hard that on December 26 the breakwater there was not just breached, it was physically displaced and it’s orientation changed. Ships could not berth for weeks thereafter.

The plan has no financial details, no budgeting, or inventorisation of forests and ecological wealth and no details of any impact assessment. The nature resort complex proposed at West Bay on the western coast is to have theme resorts, floating/underwater resorts, beach hotels, and high-end residential villas. 

It is today a secluded and difficult to reach part, one of the most important nesting sites of the globally endangered Giant Leatherback sea turtle which is being studied by the Dakshin Foundation, the Andaman and Nicobar Environment Team and the island administration’s Forest Department.

Forest Dept.’s concerns

In a note dated September 26, 2020, Divisional Forest Officer, Little Andaman, raised serious concerns about this vision on grounds of ecological fragility, indigenous rights and vulnerability to earthquakes and tsunamis.

The note said such large diversion of forest land would cause obvious environmental loss leading to irreversible damage (more than 2 million trees stand in the forest land sought for these projects), that habitats of various wild animals including endangered sea turtles would be affected, and that the impact could not even be assessed because there was no environment impact assessment report and neither were there any detailed site layout plans for the proposed diversion.

This note of dissent was a minor irritant and was ignored in the plan and vision that seeks to alter the nature of an ancient island bigger than Chennai and Mumbai in area.

Benefit of the News‘Sustainable Development of Little Andaman Island – Vision Document’

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/a-bullet-through-an-islands-heart/article33712830.ece

Centre likely to postpone Census to 2022 #GS2 #Governance

The Centre is on track to push the 2021 Census to 2022 on account of the country’s continuing preoccupation with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our hands are full dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, pointing out that first it was the measures taken to deal with the pandemic and now the massive vaccination programme under way across the country.

NPR update

The Census exercise was to have been conducted in two phases — House Listing and Housing Census from April to September 2020 and Population Enumeration from February 9 to February 28, 2021.

The first phase of the Census and the updating of the National Population Register (NPR) were initially to be rolled out in some States on April 1, 2020, but were postponed due to the pandemic.

The office of the Registrar General, in reply to a Right To Information query from The Hindu filed in November, said the schedule, or the questionnaire, of the NPR was “being finalised” and the information about the expected date of the first phase of the Census was “not available.”

The entire process had become controversial after Parliament approved the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in December 2019 that sought to give citizenship to persecuted minorities from Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan who entered India on or before December 31, 2014.

However, the rules required for implementing the CAA have not been framed so far — more than a year after the passage of this key legislation. Diplomatic sources believe that strong opposition from Bangladesh is one of the factors that led to the CAA remaining on hold.

Tens of thousands of people had taken to the streets across the country protesting against the Centre’s decision to update the NPR, which is considered the basis for the preparation of a National Register of Citizens (NRC) that could potentially exclude millions of people born in India.

Benefit of the NewsAbout Census 2022

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/govt-likely-to-postpone-census-to-2022/article33712767.ece

India delivers 2 cranes for Chabahar

In its latest push to develop Iran’s Chabahar port project, India handed over two 140-tonne cranes for loading and unloading equipment to the Iranian government.

The cranes, part of a full consignment of six Mobile Harbour Cranes (MHC) worth about $25 million were sourced from Italy and formally released at a ceremony at Chabahar’s Shahid Beheshti port after official talks between India and Iran.

India’s plans to invest further in the port project are seen as an indicator that the government expects some easing up in U.S. sanctions in the upcoming months, once the new Biden administration begins to address its policy on re-entering the Iran nuclear deal. 

Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) will also hold a quadrilateral meeting in Delhi with officials from Afghanistan, Iran, Uzbekistan and “another Central Asian countries as observer” to discuss Chabahar connectivity and transit trade opportunities.

“We are happy to supply the port of Chabahar with two cranes… This can solve some of the problems in loading and unloading cargos. He also pointed out that the port has handled 75,000 tonnes of wheat donated by India to Afghanistan so far, along with other operations.

Earlier this month, the Ministry of Shipping and Ports had said the delivery of the cranes “shows India’s commitment to the strategic connectivity of Chabahar port project that will provide access to markets in Central Asia,” explaining that the consignment was part of a bilateral contract between India and Iran signed in May 2016 for $85 million to equip and operationalise the port.

The MEA delegation’s visit comes a month after transport officials of India, Iran and Uzbekistan held their first “Trilateral Working Group Meeting” on the joint use of Chabahar Port.

Benefit of the NewsIndia- Iran relations

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/india-delivers-2-cranes-for-chabahar/article33712796.ece

Medical board on abortion ‘unfeasible’ #GS2 #Governance

A panel of doctors to decide on termination of pregnancy beyond 24 weeks as proposed in the Medical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Amendment Bill, 2020, is “unfeasible” as 82% of these posts are lying vacant in the country, finds a new study.

The MTP Bill was passed in the Lok Sabha in March 2020, and is likely to be brought before the Rajya Sabha during the Budget Session.

The Bill proposes several amendments, including the constitution of a medical Board in every State and Union Territory, which will decide on pregnancies beyond 24 weeks in cases of foetal abnormalities. Each Board will have a gynaecologist, a radiologist or sonologist, a paediatrician, and other members prescribed by the governments.

The report analysed district-wise availability of specialists, including surgeons, obstetricians and gynaecologists, physicians and paediatricians. It found that for each of the years between 2015 and 2019, the shortfall in these posts hovered between 71% and 81.8%. For 2019, for a total of 21,296 vacancies in the country, only 3,880 were filled, that is, there was a shortfall of 81.8%.

The data is based on the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare’s Rural Health Survey, which provides details of vacancies filled at secondary healthcare centres. Similar data for urban areas were unavailable. 

The shortfall was starker in the northeast where Sikkim, Mizoram and Manipur had a total absence of obstetricians and gynaecologists, and a near total absence of paediatricians. Arunachal Pradesh and Meghalaya had a 100% shortage of paediatricians.

Benefit of the NewsMedical Termination of Pregnancy (MTP) Amendment Bill, 2020

https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/medical-board-on-abortion-unfeasible/article33712790.ece

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