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Q.1) Discuss the key feature of the draft amendment to the Indian Forest Act, 1927. What are the issues with the draft amendment Act? Answer: Key provisions of the draft act:
  1. Define forests: Forest is defined to include “any government or private or institutional land recorded or notified as forest/forest land in any government record and the lands managed by government/community as forest and mangroves, and also any land which the central or state government may by notification declare to be forest for the purpose of this Act.”
  2. Defines community: The amendment defines community as “a group of persons specified on the basis of government records living in a specific locality and in joint possession and enjoyment of common property resources, without regard to race, religion, caste, language and culture”
  3. Focus on conservation and sustainable management: The amendment has increased the focus to conservation, enrichment and sustainable management of forest resources and matters connected therewith to safeguard ecological stability. State governments may declare any area as a conservation area for the purpose of enhanced carbon sequestration and such area shall be brought under active forest management for enhancing vegetational growth by reforestation and afforestation.
  4. International commitments: It address the concerns related to climate change and international commitments
  5. More Power to forest officers: under Section 66(2) of the Indian Forest (Amendment) Act forest-officer, may if necessary, use firearms for securing of the forest-produce.
  6. power to centre: The Union government has proposed that the Centre will be able to intervene in the states on matters of management of forestlands, overruling the states on several counts when it deems fit
Issues:
  1. Clash with Forest Rights Act: The exclusion of ‘village forestry’ from the preview of Forest Right Act (forest official supersedes gram sabha) is legally contradictory and would add confusion on the ground
  2. Give more power to forest officials: The draft Bill reinforces the idea of bureaucratic control of forests, providing immunity for actions such as use of firearms by personnel to prevent an offence. Critics argue that this would turn quarter of India’s land into police state.
  3. Definition of forest: Various national and international agencies such as FAO, CBD, UNFCCC and FSI have adopted the definition of forest that account density and area under tree as the basis of definition. While proposed amendment consider only administrative needs and ignores ecological parameters while defining forest.
  4. Forced relocation of forest dweller: The draft mentions that the state governments could take away the rights of the forest dwellers if the government feels it is not in line with “conservation of the proposed reserved forest” by payment to the people impacted or by the grant of land
  Q.2) What is the fixed maturity plan? Why did fixed maturity plans of some funds fail to fully mature? What are the risks involved? Answer: Fixed Maturity Plans are offered by mutual funds (MFs). It is a type of debt mutual fund. FMPs are a class of debt funds that are close-ended: one can only invest in them at the time of a new fund offer and they come with a specified maturity date, much like a fixed deposit (FD). Recently, Kotak Mutual Fund and HDFC mutual fund informed investors in its Fixed Maturity Plans (FMPs) that it would not be able to redeem one of its FMPs schemes on time. Risks involved:
  1. Low Liquidity: Since redemption of scheme units cannot be made prior to the maturity of the FMP schemes, these funds have potentially low levels of liquidity.
  2. Locked-In Rates: While locked-in rates are an excellent choice during a falling interest rates regime, the same can become a problem during a period of rising interest rates. When market rates move upwards, locked-in rates can lead to missed opportunities with respect to potentially higher returns coupled with possibly lower risk levels.
  3. Returns Not Guaranteed: Returns from FMPs are not guaranteed unlike other fixed return instruments such as fixed deposits. FMPs are market-linked and low potential risk does not mean zero risks for the investors. There is always the possibility that the company issuing the debt would not be able to repay the principal amount.
  Q.3) The Model Code of Conduct has been violated by several candidates during campaigning for the Lok Sabha elections. Critically examine the power of election commission to take against such candidates and parties. Answer: The MCC is a set of norms for conduct and behavior of the political parties and candidates during elections. It aims to provide a level playing field for all political parties. MCC does not a have a statutory backing and it is more a consensus driven code by political parties. Thus, we often see violations of MCC and no effective action against such deviations. Need for statutory backing:
  1. since most of its provisions are enforceable, the remaining stipulations in the MCC should also be accorded statutory backing
  2. Parliamentary Standing Committee on Law and Justice recommended in its 2013 report that statutory status be accorded to the MCC
  3. absence of an immediate appeal mechanism against the decision of the returning officer to cancel the nomination of a candidate. The decision can only be challenged in the High Court after the announcements of election results
  4. The bar on the ruling party from the use of its position for electioneering to combine official work with campaign activity, the exercise of monopoly over public places and transport facilities are important non-statutory stipulations in the code
However, the Election Commission has argued against making the MCC legally binding. EC observe that elections must be completed within a relatively short time, and judicial proceedings typically take longer, therefore it is not feasible to make it enforceable by law.   Q.4) A fire broke out in Paris’s Notre-Dame cathedral recently. What is the historical significance of Notre-Dame cathedral? What are the challenges in its rebuilding? Answer: Notre-Dame de Paris is the most famous of the Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages and is distinguished for its size, antiquity, and architectural interest. Significance of the building:
  1. It took 182 years to complete the construction of the Notre-Dame de Paris.
  2. The church had been a centre of attraction for pilgrims for centuries as it had priceless artefacts in its possession such as the Holy Crown of Thorns, believed to have been worn by Jesus before the crucifixion, a piece of the “True Cross” upon which he was said to be crucified, and a nail from the crucifixion.
  3. Notre-Dame, which housed several statues of kings, had attracted the anger of protesters during the French Revolution in 1789. They ransacked the cathedral, destroyed the royal statues and brought down the original spire.
  4. When Catholicism was banned in France during the Revolution, Notre-Dame was turned into a Temple of Reason.
  5. Napoleon chose the damaged church for his coronation as Emperor of France in 1804.
  6. Two distinct features of Notre-Dame are its flying buttresses and gargoyles.
Challenges in rebuilding: The blaze has destroyed the cathedral’s roof and spire, its structure remains sound “with some vulnerabilities”. Most of the relics, including the Crown of Thorns, were rescued from the blaze.
  1. The original roof and the beams were wooden and rebuilding them exactly as they were before the fire needs hundreds of trees, which itself is a challenge.
  2. The restoration cost is yet to be decided as the extent of the damage is still being assessed. France might get donations for the restoration, but large-scale spending on the cathedral could also cause social tensions, especially at a time when the economy is going through a tough phase and grappling with large-scale protests.