- The prime minister’s flagship programme, the Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM), is progressing towards Gandhiji’s dream of a clean India with all its villages becoming Open Defecation Free (ODF).
Three years of SBM
- Launched in October 2014 and scheduled to culminate by October 2, 2019, the 150th birth anniversary of Gandhiji, the SBM is close to completing three years.
- The progress is good, with rural sanitation coverage having gone up from 39 per cent to 67 per cent in three years.
- Over 230 million people in rural India have stopped defecating in the open. Five states, 186 districts and over 2,31,000 villages have been declared as ODF.
- The major achievement, however, is not a spurt in the construction of toilets, but the focus on behaviour change.
- The chief achievement is rapidly spreading public awareness of the need for sanitation and usage of toilets.
- The most significant policy shift in this regard has been the move from outputs (number of toilets built) to outcomes (ODF villages), since ODF signifies the entire village unit makes this commitment.
- There is increasing realization in rural India that, in addition to the violation of dignity, especially that of women and girls, open defecation significantly adds to the disease burden, especially of children below the age of five.
SBM and the Information, Education and communication (IEC)
- The SBM seeks to carry out one of the largest behaviour change campaigns in history, mainly through effective information, education and communication (IEC).
- At one end of the IEC spectrum is the use of mass media: Print and electronic, using celebrities.
- At another end, it is the use of interpersonal communication, where trained grass roots level motivators, or swachhagrahis, work under an incentive-based system to “trigger” behaviour change by stimulating community-level demand for toilets.
- Involving locally elected representatives, grass roots-level organizations, NGOs and school students in spreading awareness on sanitation is also a key aspect of the SBM’s approach to IEC.
Verification of ODF
- The SBM ambitiously aims at having at least one trained grassroots-level swachhagrahi in each village in India, of which over 1,50,000 are already in place.
- Once a village declares itself as ODF, proof of the latter status becomes key for which the SBM guidelines provide for a 90-day window from the date of ODF declaration.
- The verification process also allows for any gaps or errors in ODF status to be rectified
- Presently, verification of ODF villages stands at around 56 per cent. To accelerate the verification process, the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation has recently issued policy guidelines that state governments will be eligible for release of the second instalment of central funds only if they have fully verified all their ODF villages.
- The programme also has a fairly robust system of verification at district and state level.
- At the national level, the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation, performs separate checks as well as third party sample surveys by independent organizations.
- A national 1,40,000-household survey, carried out by the Quality Council of India during May-June 2017, found that national usage of toilets was 91 per cent.
- The Supreme Court has seen a climbdown in the position of Muslim bodies, from affirming that the practice helps separated couples to “move on” effortlessly to filing finally an affidavit that Muslim men who resort to instant talaq will be socially boycotted.
The past two years of litigation over the legality of instant triple talaq
- Back in September 2016, the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) maintained that the Shariat permitted instant talaq in the interest of both the man and woman as a means to keep their dignity and privacy intact.
- The purpose is to save the family from delayed justice in conventional courts and to avoid mud-slinging in public.
- “To presume that each triple talaq is arbitrary and unreasonable is a fallacy of reason … it is a misconception that triple talaq is always a result of haste and is a power which is freely misused by a Muslim male,” the Board had told the court.
- It had justified that there were innumerable cases where a Muslim wife pursues dissolution of marriage and approaches her husband seeking immediate dissolution by resorting to triple talaq”.
- The Board had argued that a religion cannot be “reformed” out of its existence or identity.
- It had accused the Supreme Court of trying to indulge in judicial legislation in the name of “socially reforming” Islamic practices of marriage and divorce.
- Justice Kurian Joseph, towards the end of the hearing, had suggested whether Muslim brides can be armed with a right to forbid instant talaq in the nikah namah .
- However, the AIMPLB, on the last day of the hearing, conveyed its resolution to boycott Muslims who pronounced divorce in one go. “This social will be much helpful in decreasing the incidents of divorce,” the AIMPLB had assured the court.
- The Supreme Court’s judgment on the constitutionality of triple talaq may also decide the age-old debate whether personal laws can be brought under the ambit of Article 13.
Argument of All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB)
- While the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB) has argued that the Supreme Court does not have jurisdiction to strike down provisions of personal law, organizations calling for reform and Muslim women from various walks of life across the country have urged the court to declare triple talaq and polygamy as “un-Islamic”.
- For the first time that aggrieved persons individual Muslim women themselves have approached the apex court in person to settle the law on whether religious law is immune from constitutional standards enshrined under fundamental rights.
- Article 13 includes in its ambit any “ordinance, order, by-law, rule, regulation, notification and even customs and usages” passed or made by the Legislature or any other “competent authority”.
- It mandates that any law in force in the country before or after the commencement of Constitution should not violate the fundamental rights of citizens enshrined in Part III.
- A judicial declaration from a Constitution Bench under Article 13 that personal laws are liable to comply with the fundamental rights guaranteed by Constitution would bring religious law, even uncodified practices, under judicial review.
- A five-judge Supreme Court Bench, headed by Chief Justice of India J.S. Khehar, will on Tuesday pronounce its judgment on the legality of the Islamic personal law practice of triple talaq.
The decision of the court
- The court will be deciding if the law, which allows a Muslim man to divorce his wife by saying talaq (divorce) thrice, violates the fundamental and human rights of Muslim women.
- On October 16, 2015, the court questioned if Muslim personal law practices of marriage and divorce reduce women to chattels.
- In a rare move, it registered a suo motu PIL petition to examine if arbitrary divorce, polygamy and nikah halala violate women’s dignity.
- It lamented the missed opportunity to address gender inequality in both the Shah Bano and Danial Latifi cases.
- In the Shah Bano case, it had merely forced the government to frame the Uniform Civil Code.
- The sundering of the political space in the Subcontinent gets a lot less attention in the narratives of independent India’s international relations than the sentimental accounts of Delhi’s non-alignment and moralpolitik.
India and China since the mid-20th century
- India was divided in 1947 and China was united in 1949. The Subcontinent’s great partition locked the successor states India and Pakistan in a perennial conflict. China overcame an era of fragmentation to come together as a strong nation.
- If the British Raj emerged as a powerful state by generating a measure of political and administrative coherence to the Subcontinent, its dissolution accompanied by division resulted in the strategic diminution of its successor states, India and Pakistan.
- The combination of British power and the massive resources of an undivided Subcontinent created what came to be known as the “India Centre” that dominated the geopolitics of Asia and the Indian Ocean.
- Indian capital and labour, its armies and administrative systems were central to political stability, economic globalisation and the spread of modernising ideologies in the eastern hemisphere.
- Before Partition, India’s energies economic and military radiated outwards.
- Post Partition, the Subcontinent’s energies turned inward in defence of the new political borders
- The Anglo-American initiatives to replace the India Centre with such new regional security structures as SEATO and CENTO flopped.
- To make matters even more interesting, the communist giants, Russia and China fell apart at the turn of the 1960s and opened the door for the American strategic partnership with China that would contribute enormously to Beijing’s rise as a great power.
- China was not only good at exploiting the great power conflicts to its own benefit, its leaders also clearly saw the strategic implications of Partition.
- They also saw the opportunities to probe independent India’s limitations in sustaining primacy in the Subcontinent and the Indian Ocean that it had inherited from the Raj.
Early decades after partition
- China seemed relatively marginal to South Asian geopolitics.
- India’s energies were focused on opposing the Anglo-American co-option of Pakistan into the Cold
- War alliance system and the supply of Western arms to the Pakistan military. India bet that it could manage the inherent contradictions with China through a conscious befriending of Beijing. But the outcomes abound in paradoxes.
- Given the anti-Communist orientation of CENTO and SEATO, you would have thought China would view Pakistan with suspicion and embrace an India that chose to remain non-aligned and refused to support the Cold War alliances.
- For China, Partition is a gift that continues to give. After years trying to limit Western influences in its neighbourhood, India now finds halting China’s penetration of the Subcontinent will need a lot more political will and strategic purpose.
- Nepal is run by a revolving door of political leaders who have weakened the polity and economy over the years, but who did battle the odds to promulgate a new Constitution.
India – China relationship
- With global geopolitics on the boil, and the Hindi-Chini relationship in free fall, it should be in India’s interest to secure its own neighbourhood,.
- New Delhi must use the visit of Nepal’s newly anointed Prime Minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, on Wednesday as an opportunity to hit the reset button on Nepal-India relations.
- Rebooting requires a cold and hard look at how Nepal was handled over the past decade, exemplified by the impediments placed in the writing, adoption and implementation of the Constitution.
- India played a valued role in ending the Maoist insurgency in 2006, but the period thereafter was marked by escalating micro-meddling in Nepal’s internal affairs.
- In Constitution-writing, there were attempts to define the new provincial boundaries according to Indian dictates pushing first an unwieldy and unworkable plains-only province, then a two-province formula.
- While keeping silent for years on Nepal’s post-conflict transitional justice process, in November 2015 India’s representative in Geneva cynically utilised the forum of the Human Rights Council to influence government change in Kathmandu.
- At the tactical level, New Delhi’s motives behind the heavy-handedness of the recent past may have to do with electoral calculations related to the Bihar and Uttar Pradesh polls.
- On the Constitution, the idea of a ‘buffer’ province is thought to have been floated either to prevent third country militant infiltration or to control national-level politics in Kathmandu.
- For the long term, Indian strategists may be seeking ways to get Kathmandu to allow the construction of high dams and deep reservoirs on Nepal’s rivers for flood control, navigation, urban use and irrigation in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
- From the Kathmandu perspective, politically micromanaging Nepal could not have but backfired.
- Take the Great Blockade, which forced the Kathmandu political leadership to reach out to Beijing and sign a slew of trade, transit and infrastructural agreements with it.
- Once Nepal and India get past the era of interventionism as but a bad memory, the two can concentrate on the numerous matters that need concentration and resolution.
- An important issue is the open border itself, which is a unique joint heritage of the two countries.
- While it is Nepal’s Left that has traditionally demanded restrictions on the border, the call now rises from the Indian security establishment.
- The Nepal plains are suffering from massive floods that have also affected downstream areas across the border.
- Besides the spread of settlements, a prime cause for the severity is that the Chure (Shivalik) hills have been gouged of rocks to build elevated roads and levees just south of the border, leading to inundation in Nepal.
- A permanent bilateral mechanism is required to save the plains population of Nepal from suffering, which is ongoing as this is written.
- There are many other matters pending between Nepal and India, much of it due to neglect by the Kathmandu intelligentsia.
- The rights of migrant Indian labour in Nepal and Nepali labour in India is a topic that rarely comes up.
- There are border disputes pending between the two countries at Susta, Kalapani and the ‘tri-junction’ of Lipulekh but Kathmandu has been timid in raising these matters.
- Nepal has since long planned to sell electricity to India once it has a hydropower surplus, and the completion of the much-delayed Dhalkebar-Muzaffarpur transmission line was supposed to facilitate that
- But along comes an Indian government directive that it will not allow import of electricity other than from power companies with more than 51% Indian equity.
- The arbitrary blockages and go-slow at Indian Customs at border points, the selective use of quarantine for the export of Nepali agricultural produce.
- Following last week’s scuffle between troops of the two countries along the Pangong lake in Ladakh, China on Monday urged India to abide by the Line of Actual Control (LAC) position of 1959.
Statement of Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson
- Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying blamed Indian troops of undertaking “violent actions” and injuring Chinese personnel.
- The Ministry urged India to abide by the “1959 LAC”, an apparent reference to the alignment embraced by former Chinese Premier Zhou en Lai in a letter to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
- In his 2016 book, Choices: Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy, former National Security Adviser Shivshankar Menon points out that in the proposal of November 1959, the Chinese describe the LAC “only in general terms on maps not to scale”.
- India rejected the proposal in 1959 and 1962.
- Zhou en Lai then wrote to Nehru that in the eastern sector, the line “coincides in the main with the so-called McMahon Line, and in the western and middle sectors, it coincides in the main with the traditional customary line which has consistently been pointed out by China”.
- Ms. Hua said the happening at Pangong lake had “violated the consensus” on border issues.
- She said China had expressed “grave dissatisfaction” and lodged its serious concern with India.
- Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh termed the ongoing standoff between the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Indian Army at Doklam near the Bhutan-Sikkim-China trijunction a “deadlock”.
Mr. Sigh’s statement
- Mr. Singh said the crisis, which has been going on for two months, will be resolved soon and “China is also inclined towards it finding a solution.”
- Mr. Singh made the statement at a pipping ceremony of Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) jawans posted along the China border.
- Later speaking on the sidelines of the function, Mr. Singh told reporters: “We expect a positive move from China soon.”
- Drones are turning into a savior for the fast-dwindling mangroves in Myanmar’s low-lying Ayeyarwady Delta, ravaged by decades of deforestation and conversion of land for agriculture and aquaculture.
- Mangroves protect coastlines in the face of storms and rising sea levels, absorb carbon from the atmosphere, and boost fish stocks.
- Still Myanmar has lost more than 1 million hectares (about 2.5 million acres) of mangroves since 1980.
- In the delta region, known as the country’s rice bowl, only 16% of original mangrove cover remains.
Restoring of Mangroves
- There is an “urgent need” to restore mangroves to stem saltwater invasion of farmland and shoreline erosion due to sea level rise.
- There is a dire need to protect lives and property from storms and floods in coastal areas as well.
- An annual climate risk index by Germanwatch, a green research group, ranked Myanmar, which suffered decades of military rule, second among the 10 countries worst-affected by extreme weather from 1996 to 2015.
- WIF has so far planted some 3 million mangrove trees, but the task is laborious and time-consuming.
How can Drones come handy?
- Drones can plant trees 10 times faster and cut costs by half, according to UK-based start-up BioCarbon Engineering (BCE), whose CEO is an ex-NASA engineer who worked on the search for life on Mars.
- Once the process is fully automated, a single pilot operating six drones can plant up to 100,000 trees per day.
- The plan covers 250 hectares and involves training and employing locals to collect and prepare seeds, as well as to maintain, monitor and protect the fragile ecosystems.
- It still requires approval from Myanmar’s authorities.
- Drones are particularly useful in complicated or dangerous terrain that is hard for people to access.
- They can help cover large areas of land very fast, and could contribute to meeting the international community’s commitment to restore 350 million hectares of degraded forests and agricultural land by 2030.
Benefits of Mangrove ecosystem
- The thriving mangrove ecosystems can store two to four times more carbon than most other tropical forests, helping reduce planet-warming gases in the atmosphere, while slowing coastal erosion and shielding communities against tsunamis and storm surges.
- They also provide breeding grounds for fish and other sea creatures. Mangroves have been estimated to support 30 percent of Southeast Asia’s fish catch, and almost 100 percent of its shrimp catch.
- Drones flying 100 metres (328 ft) above the ground take highly detailed, 3D images of the land while sensors record information such as soil type, soil quality and moisture.
- The data is then used to create a planting pattern, pinpointing the best spots and species to plant in each location.
- Then a drone uploaded with the mapping information flies 2 metres above the ground, shooting biodegradable seed pods designed to enhance germination success.
- A drone carrying 300 seed pods can cover 1 hectare in 18 minutes.
- BCE had tested around 3,000 species of plants in different conditions, including in Britain and in Australia, and was confident of finding the right combination for Myanmar.
- After cutting back the speed of the Beijing to Shanghai bullet train following a deadly crash, China is set to relaunch it again.
The world’s fastest bullet train
- New generation trains will service the route starting next month, making the 1,250-km journey from the capital to Shanghai in just 4 hours, 30 minutes.
- The latest trains were unveiled in June and have a top speed of 400 kmph.
- China first ran trains at 350 kmph in August 2008, but cut speeds back to 250 – 300 kmph in 2011 following a train collision near the city of Wenzhou that killed 40 people and injured 191.
- China has laid more than 20,000 km of high-speed rail, with a target of adding another 10,000 km by 2020.
- China has spent an estimated $360 billion on high-speed rail, building by far the largest network in the world.
- The second Landing Craft Utility L52 of Mk-IV class, an amphibious ship to transport combat equipment and troops of the Navy, designed and built by Garden Reach Ship Builders, was commissioned at Port Blair on Monday.
- These ships would be based in the Andaman and Nicobar Command and can be arrayed for multi-role activities such as beaching operations, search and rescue, disaster relief operations, supply and replenishment and evacuation from distant islands.
- The ship, commanded by Commander Kaushik Chatterjee, has a complement of five officers and 46 sailors.
- The ship is capable of carrying 160 troops in addition. Relocating 830 tonnes, it is capable of transporting various kinds of combat equipment such as Arjun main battle tanks.