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GS: 2


International relations:

India confirms NSAs met in Bangkok(The Hindu)

Context

The National Security Advisers (NSAs) of India and Pakistan met on December 26 in Bangkok, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) confirmed on Thursday

Backdrop

It was part of the mechanism to hold Pakistan accountable for the terrorism that emanates from its territory

Issue raised by India

India raised the issue of cross-border terrorism

Talk on terror model

The ‘talks on terror’ model to engage Pakistan is a break in India’s position that India had taken following the attack on the Pathankot airbase when New Delhi had cancelled the Comprehensive Bilateral Dialogue (CBD). CBD was launched by External Affairs Minister SushmaSwaraj during her visit to Islamabad on 9 December 2015

Operational-level dialogue

The NSA-level meetings are a part of an “operational-level dialogue” similar to the talks that are held between the DGMOs of both sides and between the border forces of two countries

Towards stability (The Hindu Editorial)

Context

A month after the Left Alliance secured a decisive victory in Nepal’s parliamentary elections, a government is yet to be formed in Kathmandu

Alliance

Left alliance includes the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre).

Why the delay?

Due to procedural issues, viz.,

  • The Upper House, or the National Assembly, needed to be indirectly elected by the provincial assemblies. The parties had disagreed on the means of this indirect election, with the NC advocating a proportional representation-single transferable vote system, and the UML seeking a majority vote. After President Bidhya Devi Bhandari ratified a long-pending ordinance that allowed elections based on the single transferable vote in late December 2017, this issue appeared to have been resolved
  • Appointment of governors: In consultation with the Left Alliance, the caretaker government has to first appoint governors to the seven provinces
  • Choosing capitals: After appointment of governors, the process of choosing their capitals, in order to convene the Assemblies, can be completed
    • Protests:Tentative proposals on new capitals had given rise to protests in several towns, and the main political parties are unwilling to take a clear position on the issue. The caretaker NC government does not seem to be particularly keen on resolving this, and a proposal has been floated to allow the provincial assemblies to convene in Kathmandu first. In the absence of a consensus, this may be best

India must seize the chance : US(The Hindu)

Context

First public address by American envoy to India Kenneth Juster

What did he say?

  • Hub for US Business in Indo-pacific: India is a “leading power” in the Indo-Pacific and should gear up to become an alternative manufacturing destination to China to attract U.S. business
    • Number of US companies are looking to downgrade their operations from China due to increasing difficulties in doing business there. India must seize this opportunity to become an alternative hub for US Business in Indo-Pacific region
  • Free trade agreement: Both India and US should negotiate a Free Trade Agreement
  • Market access and IP rights: He expressed the need for India to expand market access and intellectual property rights, both of which are the subject of U.S.-India litigation at the World Trade Organisation
  • Quad: He said India and the U.S. can work together in Afghanistan, partner with Japan and Australia in the Indo-Pacific, coordinate their humanitarian assistance, as well as cooperate on connectivity projects in South Asia
  • Defence and counterterrorism: He placed defence and counter-terrorism cooperation as the first pillar of the India-U.S. relationship, while calling economic relations, energy and environment, science and health, and regional cooperation as the other pillars

India’s vote at UN not an issue(The Hindu)

Context

Indo-Israel bilateral relations – PM Netanyahu’s January visit to India

Backdrop

India in December voted in favour of the UN General Assembly resolution, condemning the U.S. for its decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel

Historic first

Prime Minister NarendraModi had visited the Jewish state in July, becoming the first Indian premier to do so

Netanyahu’s views

  • Pointing towards the tremendous strengthening of ties on all fronts, Mr. Netanyahu expressed optimism saying, “overtime I hope I will see a reflection of that more often in the voting of India in international forums
  • On the matter of India voting in favour of UNGN resolution: Well I would have preferred a different vote to be frank but I don’t think it materially changes the tremendous flowering of relations between India and Israel

Budhism is basis of an early form of globalization(The Hindu)

Context

Inaugurating the fourth International Dharma-Dhamma conference on state and social order at Rajgir in Nalanda district of Bihar on Thursday, President Ram NathKovind said Buddhism was the basis for an early form of globalisation, and of interconnectedness in our continent

President’s views

  • Timing is important: The President pointed out that “the timing of this conference is very appropriate” as “we are marking the 25th anniversary of the ASEAN-India Dialogue Partnership.”
  • A testimony to shared values: This conference stands testimony to the abiding friendship and shared values of India and ASEAN – as well as to the spiritual heritage and knowledge that belongs to both the sub-continent and to Southeast Asia
  • Influence of Buddhism: It is estimated that more than half the world’s current population lives in regions that have been historically influenced – and in many cases continue to be influenced – by the enlightenment that Lord Buddha attained and placed as a model before humanity. This is the thread that stitches us all together. This is the vision that must inspire us in the 21st century as well. And this is truly what has been described as the Light of Asia
  • He said India’s Act East Policy has to be seen in this context. “It is much more than a diplomatic initiative. It is not targeted at just greater trade and investment. Of course all of those aspirations are extremely important for the prosperity and well-being of the people of India and of all our partner countries

Who organized the conference?

The conference was organised by the Nalanda University under the aegis of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs — Asean Indian Dialogue Partnerships and India Foundation

Beijing wary of Indian presence in S. China sea(The Hindu)

Context

China on Thursday objected to Vietnam’s invitation to India to invest in oil and natural gas sector in the disputed South China Sea, saying it is firmly opposed to infringement of its rights using development of bilateral ties as an “excuse”

Invitation to India

  • Investment in South China Sea: Vietnam’s Ambassador to India Ton SinhThanh on Tuesday had told an Indian news channel that his country would welcome Indian investments in the South China Sea
  • Defence cooperation: Mr.Thanh had also said defence cooperation is one of the important and effective areas of cooperation between India and Vietnam and India can be helpful in expanding Vietnam’s defence capabilities

China’s response

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said that

China does not object to the development of normal bilateral relations of relevant countries in our neighbourhood… “But China firmly oppose relevant party to use it as an excuse to infringe upon China’s legitimate rights and interests in the South China Sea and impair regional peace and stability

Backdrop

China has been opposing Oil and Natural Gas Corporation exploring oil in wells claimed by Vietnam in the South China Sea for years

The road still runs through Ramallah(The Hindu Opinion)

Context

NarendraModi’s visit to Israel  last year, the first by an Indian Prime Minister, stood out for his decision not to visit the Palestinian territories. Two months before Mr.Modi’s visit, even Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s closest ally, U.S. President Donald Trump, had coupled his visit to Jerusalem with a trip to Bethlehem to meet the Palestinian leadership

Author’s contention

Advocating the Israel-Palestine peace process is vital for India to restore its influence in West Asia

Strengthening ties: Towards de-hyphenation

Author states that during Indian PM”s visit to Israel last year both India and Israel focussed on strengthening bilateral ties, most notably the defence and strategic partnership, while Palestine issue didn’t figure in the list of matters to be discussed

Indo-Israel bilateral relations

  • Defence trade: By one estimate, India accounts for 41% of Israel’s defence exports, and a possible sale of Spike anti-tank missiles during Mr. Netanyahu’s visit to India will give this steadfast relationship an added fillip
  • Counter-terrorism cooperation remains a cornerstone of India-Israel cooperation and there will be a powerful joint remembrance ceremony during Mr. Netanyahu’s visit to Mumbai’s Chabad House, one of the targets of the 26/11 attack
  • MoU’s to be signed: The biggest growth areas in bilateral ties will also come from memorandums of understanding in agriculture and water technology, given Israeli expertise in this area
  • Desalinization vehicles: During Mr. Netanyahu’s visit to Ahmedabad, where he and Mr.Modi will undertake a roadshow together, he will hand over two desalinisation vehicles that Mr.Modi saw in Haifa

De-hyphenate

It means a forging relations with one country without linking them with any other country

Diverting from de-hyphenation

Author points out that however, the decision to de-hyphenate doesn’t seem quite as set in stone as it had just a few months ago

  • Two-state solution issue to be raised: Expectations are that unlike in Jerusalem, Indian PM will raise the need to pursue the two-state solution with Mr. Netanyahu directly during the India visit
  • Indian PM’s visit to Palestine: is also expected to travel to Palestine in the next few months, and receive Jordanian King Abdullah II in New Delhi, during which the need for the peace process will be highlighted
  • Separate Palestinian state: In a letter ahead of the UN International Solidarity Day with the Palestinian People in November, Indian PM wrote that India’s vision for the creation of a separate Palestinian state remains, and called for an “early resumption of dialogue”.

Biggest policy shift

Author states that the biggest shift from what seemed to be a set trajectory for the Modi government, however, came on the floor of the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on December 21, when India chose to vote for a resolution criticising the U.S. for recognising Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, and also called on Israel to end its “occupation that began in 1967”

Policy reversal: From Pro-Palestine to Abstention

While India maintains that its voting at UNGN resembles its past policy stance but it is far from truth because

  • In the past three years, barring a vote at the UNGA in 2014, India has turned from its traditional pro-Palestinian stance, to one of abstention
  • In 2015, India abstained on a UN Human Rights Council resolution criticising Israel for an aerial bombing of Gaza that had left 2,200 people dead
  • India repeated its abstention in 2016
  • Also in 2016, at UNESCO in Paris, India changed its vote from voting ‘for’ to an abstention on a resolution criticising Israel for encroachments at the Western Wall and near the Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem

What this new policy stance means?

India’s new position can only be explained by a desire to reassert its leadership role on the multilateral stage, and to regain its leverage on the Israel-Palestine issue, a re-hyphenation of sorts. This is in keeping with the special place and moral position India has always assumed on the peace process, and its support to a just solution. It is also a rejection of the false equivalence often built between Palestine and Kashmir, or comparisons between de-hyphenating the India-Pakistan relationship and the Israel-Palestine issue

Indian Constitution and Polity:

In a first, collegium picks women lawyer as a judge(The Hindu)

Context

In a historic decision, the Supreme Court Collegium led by Chief Justice of India DipakMisra unanimously recommended the name of senior advocate Indu Malhotra for appointment as a judge of the Supreme Court

Other recommendations

  • The Collegium has also recommended the name of Chief Justice of Uttarakhand High Court, Justice K.M. Joseph, who had quashed the President’s rule in Uttarakhand, as Supreme Court judge
  • The Supreme Court Collegium also recommended the appointment of Justice J. Bhattacharya as the Chief Justice of Calcutta High Court. Justice Bhattacharya is the present Acting Chief Justice of the High Court.

Significance of the decision

  • A historic first: This is the first time in history that a woman lawyer has been recommended for direct elevation from the Bar to a Supreme Court judgeship. If cleared, Ms. Malhotra would be the eighth lawyer to be directly appointed to the Supreme Court Bench
  • Recognition of talent:The decision, experts say, is a rare recognition of the professional talent and contribution of Ms. Malhotra, a reputed senior advocate practising in the apex court
  • If appointed, Ms. Malhotra would be only the seventh woman judge in the Supreme Court’s 68-year-old history

Criticism of SC

Justice Banumathi is the sole woman among the 25-strong Supreme Court judiciary. The court has been facing criticism for not bringing more women judges into its fold even as more and more gender-sensitive and women-centric cases reach the Supreme Court for adjudication

Historical background

  • 1st woman SC judge: Justice M. FathimaBeevi was the first woman Supreme Court judge, appointed 39 years after the apex court was established in 1950
  • 2nd woman SC judge:The second woman judge was Justice Sujata V. Manohar, who was appointed in 1994 for a five-year tenure in the Supreme Court
  • Other 5 SC judges:The other five women judges are
    • Justices Ruma Pal, GyanSudhaMisra
    • Ranjana Prakash Desai, who was part of the Bench which confirmed the death penalty of the lone 26/11 Mumbai attacks convict AjmalKasab
    • Banumathi, who was one of the judges who confirmed the death sentence for four convicts in the Nirbhayagangrape appeals

Professionalising arbitration (The Hindu Opinion)

Context

New Delhi International Arbitration Centre Bill of 2018

Need for more dispute resolution mechanisms

  • Rapidly changing economic activities demand expeditious settlement of disputes
  • To inspire confidence and credibility among the litigants.
  • The huge backlog in courts
  • Besides, the International Centre for Alternative Dispute Resolution (ICADR), which was set up in 1995 with government funds to promote alternative dispute resolution mechanism, has not been able to achieve its objectives

What does the new bill proposes?

  • Establishment of NDIAC: This Bill proposes the establishment of a new institution called the New Delhi International Arbitration Centre (NDIAC) for better management of arbitration in the country. The Bill also aims to declare it as an institution of national importance
    • Members of NDIAC: The Bill envisages appointment of persons of repute and those having knowledge and expertise in institutional arbitration as the chairperson and members of the NDIAC
    • Term:The members are to hold office for three years and they will be eligible for re-appointment
    • Objective of NDIAC: The objectives of the institution are
      • Facilitating arbitration: To provide facilities and assistance for the conduct of arbitration, mediation and conciliation proceedings
      • Professional standards: To conduct arbitration in a professional manner and in the most cost-effective way
      • Promoting study: The NDIAC will also be entrusted with promoting study in the field of alternative dispute resolution
    • Establishment of Chamber of arbitration: The Bill also proposes to set up a Chamber of Arbitration, which would have a permanent panel of professionals at the national and international levels
    • Establishment of an arbitration academy:An Arbitration Academy is to be set up by NDIAC to train arbitrators in India, so as to empower them to compete on par with other reputed arbitration institutions

The ABC of RTE (The Hindu Opinion)

Context

Open-minded adoption of the RTE Act’s enabling provisions can radically transform school education

Origin of RTE

Free and compulsory education of children in the 6 to 14 age group in India became a fundamental right when, in 2002, Article 21-A was inserted in the 86th Amendment to the Constitution

  • This right was to be governed by law, as the state may determine, and the enforcing legislation for this came eight years later, as the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act, 2010, or the RTE Act

Author’s contention

Author states that since its enactment, the RTE Act has been lauded (praised)and disparaged (regard to be of little worth). But there has been concern not only over its provisions but also about the lacunae (an unfilled space or a gap)in the school education system. However, there are clauses in the Act which have enormous catalytic potential but that have gone largely untouched and unnoticed. A focus on three of these provisions can result in an immediate and discernible impact

Three provisions

1st:Focus on retention

What the RTE Act envisaged?

The act envisaged that the state, i.e. State governments and panchayats, would aggressively ensure that each child is brought into the schooling system and also “retained” for eight years, it has been business as usual

Issues

  • Problem of dropouts: Even seven years after its enactment, there are still children on the streets, in fields and in homes. Therefore, the problem now is more about dropouts than children who were never enrolled
    • Solution:Strategies to ensure retention need to change from the earlier approach of enrolling the un-enrolled. As children out of the fold of schooling are the most hard to reach, such as girls, the disabled, orphans and those from single parent families, the solutions have to be localised and contextualised

2nd: Pupil-teacher ratio

The most critical requirement, which has also got the least public attention, is the pupil-teacher ratio (PTR). It is impractical to expect quality education without this

Issues

  • Abysmal PTR: According to the Education Department’s data, under the Unified District Information System for Education (U-DISE) database 2015-16, 33% of the schools in the country did not have the requisite number of teachers, as prescribed in the RTE norms, for PTR at the school level
  • Low PTR compliancy:The percentage of schools that were PTR-compliant varied from 100% in Lakshadweep to 16.67% in Bihar. This did not factor in subject-wise teachers at the upper primary level as this is treated differently in each State. All other forward-looking provisions of the Act such as continuous assessment, a child learning at her own pace, and ‘no detention’ policy are contingent on a school with an adequate number of teachers

Significance of adequate PTR:

  • No meaningful teaching-learning is possible unless trained teachers are physically present at school. Teachers also need to avail of leave or undergo training, so that ‘two teachers per school’ is a basic requirement

What should be done?

  • Teacher provisioning should be the first option to fund as no educationally developed country has built up a sound schooling foundation without a professionally-motivated teaching cadre in place
  • Rationalisation: In States with an adequate overall number of teachers, their positioning or posting requires rationalisation according to the number of students. However, this gets more lip service than attention as teacher transfers remain a grey area in most States

3rd provision

What is the third provision?

The third provision is that the academic calendar will be decided by the local authority, which, for most States and Union Territories, is the panchayat

Significance of this provision

This provision recognises the vast cultural and regional diversities within the country such as local festivals, sowing and harvesting seasons, and even natural calamities as a result of which schools do not function academically. It is socially acceptable that priority will be given to such a local event and not schooling. Not all festivals and State holidays declared by the the State headquarters may be locally relevant

  • So if panchayats, perhaps at the district level, decide the working days and holidays, this would not only exponentially increase attendance and teaching-learning but also strengthen local panchayats, being closest to the field, to take ownership of their schools
  • They would be responsible in ensuring the functioning of the prescribed instruction days

Conclusion

A law is as good or as bad as its implementation. It is unfair to blame legislation alone for the sad state of affairs without implementing it in full measure, especially its enabling provisions. Open-minded adoption of these provisions, keeping the child in mind, can go a long way in radically transforming our school education sector.

A needless pursuit (the Hindu Opinion)

Context

It makes no sense for India, which prides itself on its multilingualism, to make a case for Hindi at the UN

Official languages at UN

  • Chinese, French, English, Russian and Spanish were the UN official languages, but by subsequent resolutions over the years, all five became working languages too
  • In 1973, Arabic was adopted by the General Assembly as an official and a working language

Why push for Hindi as an official UN language?

Obtaining official language status for Hindi at the UN is an attractive way of enhancing its stature among languages and propagating the greater use of Hindi

Hindi is spoken not only in India, but also in Fiji, Suriname, Mauritius, Trinidad and Tobago and Guyana

Required support

India needs to get a two-thirds support

The problem

  • Wastage of resources: Even if the funding part was taken care of, it will be a gross waste of resources to spend millions of dollars every year to fund the required translation and interpretation work
  • It makes no sense for a country like India, which prides itself on its multilingualism, to make a case for Hindi at the UN. It will be quite incongruous (inappropriate) for India to spend good money on interpretation and translation at the UN, when many of its own representatives use English
  • Other languages are spoken too: It is quite a strange thing to say as other Indian languages too are spoken in several countries. Bangladesh has asked for official language status for Bengali in the UN, and the West Bengal Assembly has passed a resolution supporting the claim.

UN resolution on multilingualism

The last General Assembly resolution on the status of multilingualism at the UN noted with concern that the availability of official documents in all official languages was “limited in some areas of Secretariat activity”. Hence, when even the UN is some distance away from achieving its multilingual goals;expecting it to include one more language may be quite naïve

Conclusion

As a country known for its linguistic pluralism, India should not give an impression on the global stage that it has one pre-eminent language. The government must not embark on this needless pursuit


GS: 3


Economy:

Virtual Aadhar ID: too little. too late(The Hindu)

Context

The move to introduce an “untested” virtual ID to address security concerns over Aadhaar database is a step in the right direction, but may be a case of too little, too late, according to experts, as many of the 119 crore Aadhaar holders have already shared their 12-digit numbers with various entities

What has happened?

The Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has introduced the concept of a virtual ID that can be used in lieu of the Aadhaar number at the time of authentication, thus eliminating the need to share and store Aadhaar numbers. It can be generated only by the Aadhaar number-holder via the UIDAI website, Aadhaar enrolment centre, or its mobile application

Issues remain

  • What about all the databases that are already linked up with our Aadhaar number? Virtual ID will therefore not attack the root of the problem. At best, it is band-aid
  • Giving rise to middlemen: Barely literate population of India will find it difficult to navigate through this process of understanding a virtual ID
  • Unless all entities are required to use virtual IDs or UID tokens, and are barred from storing Aadhaar numbers, the new measures won’t really help
  • Authentication User Agencies (AUAs) categorised as ‘global AUAs’ by the UIDAI will be exempted from using the virtual IDs. These are likely to be entities which require de-duplication for subsidy transfer, such as banks and government agencies. All the leaks have happened till now from these entities. So, basically, the move will exempt the parties that are the problem

Ready for sale (The Hindu Editorial)

Context

The decision to allow 49% foreign stake in Air India sets the stage for its privatisation

A key change in FDI norms

Allowing up to 49% overseas ownership, including by a foreign airline, in Air India. This comes just a little more than six months after the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs gave its nod for a strategic disinvestment of the airline

Significance of the move

It clears the decks for possible bidders such as the Singapore Airlines-Tata combine and Jet Airways — with its overseas equity and route partners — to make a more detailed commercial assessment of the investment opportunity the state-owned flag carrier presents

Other key change in FDI norms

The other reform cleared by the Cabinet was the crucial decision to put 100% FDI in Single Brand Retail Trading under the ‘automatic’ route, accompanied by the long-sought relaxation of mandatory local sourcing norms

A major issue: This had been a major issue with potential investors including Apple, which had repeatedly urged the government to take a more benign view given the level of technological advancement incorporated in its products and the difficulty in finding local sources of supply at the requisite scale

Significance

  • The five-year holiday on the 30% local-sourcing requirement is expected to give companies setting up shop here adequate time to identify, train and even technologically assist in the creation of local supply chain

India UK hold trade talks in Brexit’s shadow, eye FTA (The Hindu)

Context

Commerce and Industry Minister Suresh Prabhu held talks with his British counterpart, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox on Thursday, as the two countries look for opportunities to boost trade and investment, including via a potential Free Trade Agreement, as Britain prepares to leave the European Union

Boosting trade

  • As part of its efforts to strengthen trade, Britain’s export credit agency U.K. Export Finance has doubled financial support for British firms that export to India.
  • £4.5 billion support: The UKEF has now made £4.5 billion available to British companies exporting to India and Indian firms buying British goods and services

12th meeting of JETCO: An oppurtunity

While Britain is unable to hold formal trade talks with countries outside the EU till it leaves the union (at the end of March 2019), the 12th meeting of the U.K.-India Joint Economic and Trade Committee (JETCO), being held this week provides an opportunity for the countries to build on the U.K.-India trade working group established last year

Visit to London

Minister is on a four-day visit to London, as part of which he is set to attend JETCO and address an audience at the London School of Economics on the role of trade and investment in driving sustainable and inclusive growth. His visit comes ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in April, which Prime Minister NarendraModi is expected to attend

Science and Technology:

Space companies bet big on PSLV(The Hindu)

Context

At least three overseas space companies have bet big on the PSLV-C40 launch of Friday. They each have put a 100-kg-class microsatellite on it as a testbed of their potential future constellations

Other launches

Also, at least two older constellation operators have brought new batches to be put in space by the Indian light-lifting launcher

Payload

Three of the 31 going to space on it are ISRO’s satellites Cartosat-2F, Microsatellite and INS-1C

Backdrop

The PSLV, resuming after a failure in August, is placing these and 25 nanosatellites (up to 10 kg) in orbits 505 km away from Earth. The nanosats also carry experiments of companies and universities from multiple countries

Significance

  • More business: Once the technologies are proven, they may lead to their operators’ firming up new constellations and the requirements for launching them in future. Hopefully they bring in more business to Antrix
  • On its 42nd flight and 209 foreign customers behind it, the PSLV’s onus seems to be getting as big as the brand; a few of the current customers have tried other launchers but with mixed luck. In the $ 5.5-billion global market for satellite launch vehicles, there are not too many similar vehicles available in time and which can take up such small satellites for their operators
  • 95 crore in earning: Antrix, the business arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation, earns ₹95 crore from arranging the PSLV-C40 flights for 28 customer payloads, which together weigh 503 kg

Antrix: Way ahead

For the next four years, Antrix has signed contracts worth ₹800 crore including the current crop. They include a couple of dedicated or fully commercial launches, which earn more money for the company

  • Deals worth another ₹350 crore are in the pipeline
  • Antrix is also looking at bigger sights and started pitching the bigger GSLV vehicle in international tenders
  • For the fiscal 2017-18, Antrix expects a turnover of over ₹1900 core, slightly more than the previous year’s. ISRO is marketing only the spare PSLV capacity and is trying to increase the manufacturing capacity of the booster through industry, Mr.Sasibhushan said.

Disaster management:

SC asks for panels on Mullaperiyar dam(The Hindu)

Context

Directions by the Supreme Court wrt Mullaiperiyar Dam

Directions by SC

  • The Supreme Court on Thursday directed Union government to set up a special committee to exclusively prepare disaster management plans wrt Mullaiperiyar Dam
  • SC also directed Tamil Nadu, which owns the dam, and Kerala, where it is situated, to set up similar committees. It said the three committees would work in harmony.

Why this step has been taken by SC?

  • SC bench has clarified that the step was taken to allay the fears of thousands of people who live downstream or in the vicinity of the dam & that the special committees have nothing to do with the lifespan or safety of the dam
  • Their brief is restricted to disaster management plans to prevent a calamity or contain the loss of life and damage to property in case a tragedy hits the dam

Petition

The order came on a petition to direct the government to appoint an international agency to study the longevity of the dam, a perennial source of water and controversy between Tamil Nadu and Kerala, built in 1895

  • Downstream people live in fear: The petition is filed by advocate Russell Joy, who represents about three million people who live in the dam’s downstream area and fall in the direct line of a catastrophe that may arise from a “burst” of the dam
  • Dam constructed using crude lime: The petition said the dam was constructed across the Periyarriver, using “crude lime surkhi mortar, at a time when dam engineering was in its infancy as a composite gravity structure.”
  • Way past its lifespan: Moreover the dam was built for 50 years and had already survived for 122 years
  • Vulnerable areas downstream: In case of a disaster, the “water will rush like a bullet” due to the steep hilly geographical features of the place to cover the 100 km to the Arabian Sea in less than an hour through the thickly populated areas downstream

Centre’s response

On behalf of the centre Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal submitted that

  • Committee constituted: The Centre was aware of the dangers regarding dam disasters and had taken over checks of 5,000 dams across the country. A committee had been constituted to keep a close watch on the safety of the Mullaiperiyar dam and recommend preventive measures in compliance with the 2014 Supreme Court judgment
  • The Centre is determined to see that the safety of the dam and provisions of the Disaster Management Act of 2005 are implemented in nature and spirit

Mullaiperiyar dam

The dam is built on an elevated junction of 850 metres and has a height of of 53.6 metres (176 feet) from the foundation, and a length of 365.7 metres (1,200 feet) for catering to the irrigational needs of Tamil Nadu

On which river is the dam built?

Periyar River

Historical background

  • The dam was built in the late 1800s in the princely state of Travancore (present-day Kerala) and given to British-ruled Madras Presidency on a 999-year lease in 1886
  • The agreement granted full rights to the secretary of state of Tamil Nadu, a British official, to construct irrigation projects on the land
  • Purpose: The dam was built to divert eastwards a part of the west-flowing Periyar river, to feed the arid areas of Tamil Nadu
  • Renewal of the agreement:The agreement was renewed by the two state governments in independent India in the 1970s. Tamil Nadu was given rights to the land and the water from the dam as well as the authority to develop hydro-power projects at the site, and Kerala would receive rent in return
  • Safety concerns:However, safety concerns surfaced in 1979 after reports in the Kerala press claimed a minor earthquake had caused cracks in the dam
  • CWC asked to examine:The Central Water Commission was asked to examine the structure and suggest ways to strengthen it. As an emergency measure, the commission recommended that the level of water stored in the reservoir be lowered to 136 feet from about 142 feet. It held that the water level could be raised to the dam’s full capacity of 152 feet after the structure was strengthened

From this point on, two divergent perspectives have emerged

Tamilnadu’s perspective

Tamil Nadu claims that though it has undertaken periodic repairs on the dam, the Kerala government has not allowed it to raise the water level. It says it has suffered huge losses from not being able to use the dam to its full capacity

Kerala’s claim

Kerala, on the other hand, contends it is not safe to raise the water level as Idukki district, where the dam is located, is earthquake-prone and has experienced multiple low-intensity quakes

Expert view

Scientists, too, have said the dam cannot withstand an earthquake measuring over six on the Richter scale and that if such a calamity were to happen, the lives of more than three million people would be imperilled

Source: You can read the entire article here

WORD POWER

  1. De-hyphenate: forging relations with one country without linking them with any other country
  2. Real Politik:  politics or diplomacy based primarily on considerations of given circumstances and factors, rather than explicit ideological notions or moral and ethical premises
  3. Laud: praise highly
  4. Disparaged: Belittle, regard having little worth
  5. Incongruous: not in harmony or keeping with the surroundings or other aspects of something, inappropriate

LOCATIONS

Israel

South China Sea

 

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