Kurukshetra IAS Academy Blogs

1.Trees in Corbett fell prey to nexus of greed, says SC

Court ‘amazed at audacity’ of former Minister and officials involved in felling of 6,000 trees

Bench approves CBI probe initiated into the case and directs agency to submit report in 3 months

Court wants panel to study if tiger safaris should be allowed in buffer zones of animal reserves

The Supreme Court on Wednesday condemned the illegal felling of over 6,000 trees to construct buildings, ostensibly for “eco-tourism” at the Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand, as a “classic case” of nexus between politicians and officials working to ransack the environment for short-term commercial ends.

“The present case depicts a sorry state of affairs of human greed devastating one of the most celebrated abodes of tigers i.e. the Corbett Tiger Reserve,” a three-judge Bench headed by Justice B.R. Gavai observed.

The court also directed the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change to form a specialised committee to study and recommend whether tiger safaris should be permitted in the buffer areas of a tiger reserve.

‘Laws ignored’

On the “huge devastation” caused by the illegal felling, the court said it was “amazed at the audacity” of former Uttarakhand Forest Minister and Congress leader Harak Singh Rawat and former Divisional Forest Officer Kishan Chand for giving forest and wildlife conservation laws a complete go-by and throwing the public trust doctrine “into the dustbin”.

The judgment approved the Central Bureau of Investigation probe initiated into the case and directed the agency to submit a report in three months.

The Bench said Uttarakhand could not “run away” from its responsibility to restore the forest to the last tree. Justice Gavai said the tigers needed the forest as much as the forest depended on the tigers.

“The presence of tigers in the forests is an indicator of the well-being of the ecosystem. Unless steps are taken for the protection of tigers, the ecosystem which revolves around tigers cannot be protected… Events like illegal construction and illicit felling of trees like the one in Corbett cannot be ignored,” he said.

The court said the proposed specialised committee of the Ministry would comprise representatives of the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA), Wildlife Institute of India, Central Empowered Committee and a Joint Secretary from the Ministry.

Assessing damage

The panel would assess the extent of damage done to the Corbett reserve’s green cover, quantify the cost of restoration and identify the “delinquent” persons and officials responsible for the damage.

The court said the cost of restoration would be recovered from these errant individuals and officials. The money would be used exclusively for forest restoration.

The Bench said in case the committee’s recommendations were in favour of having tiger safaris in peripheral areas of tiger reserves, it should recommend guidelines for their operation. The guidelines would be applied on a pan-India basis.

The committee has to file its report in three months.

The court said safaris already existing like the one in Pakhro zone at Corbett, need not be disturbed. It, however, directed the Uttarakhand government to establish an animal rescue centre in the vicinity of the safari.

2.Ensure Pakistan does not use loans to foot defence bills, India tells IMF

Taking a tough stance, India has batted for “stringent monitoring” of any emergency funds provided by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to its financially beleaguered neighbour Pakistan, stressing that such funds must not be redeployed towards defence bills or repayment of loans from other countries.

India’s position was put across to the IMF’s executive board by its nominee, executive director Krishnamurthy Subramanian, during a recent review of an ongoing $3 billion short term Stand-By Arrangement (SBA)granted to Pakistan by the Fund last July. India has usually abstained from voting on loans sought by Pakistan, and did the same last July when the SBA was approved.

In mid-January this year, when the board reviewed the loan, India’s representative abstained from voting again, following which the multilateral lender released a $700 million tranche to Pakistan.

However, this time, the Indian government requested Mr. Subramanian to convey to the IMF board the need to put in place “checks and balances and ensure a stringent monitoring” of Pakistan’s utilisation of IMF money.

The IMF and Mr. Subramanian did not respond to queries from The Hindu till the time of going to press.

The development assumes significance as Pakistan’s newly formed government, led by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, is pursuing “immediate talks” with the IMF to seek additional funding support, including the $1.2 billion residual balance under the SBA which expires next month, and beyond.

The IMF’s support had helped cash-strapped Pakistan stave off an imminent external payments crisis that it faced last June when forex reserves had dwindled to just $3.5 billion, barely enough to pay a month’s import bill.

Pakistan’s economy — hit by severe floods in 2022, external shocks, and sharp inflation — had contracted in 2022-23.

The country’s financial year runs from July to June.

3.Crimes against foreigners in India rarely result in convictions

Approximately, one in twenty rape cases in which victims are foreigners results in convictions

On March 1, a woman tourist from Spain camping with her husband was allegedly gang raped in Dumka district, Jharkhand, while travelling to Nepal from West Bengal. The incident occurred as the couple rested in a makeshift tent in a deserted area at Kurmahat village. According to a police source, eight people passing through the area stopped and assaulted the husband and raped the woman. The culprits also looted ₹10,000. The police have arrested eight persons in the case, so far.

The horrible incident bore chilling similarity to an incident in Madhya Pradesh, a decade ago, when a Swiss tourist was gang raped in Datia district, while on a cycling trip with her partner. She was camping near National Highway 75, close to a local police station. Six convicts were awarded life sentences in the case. In 2018, a Latvian woman disappeared near Pothencode, Thiruvananthapuram. Her body was discovered 40 days later. The prosecution argued that she was drugged, raped and murdered. In 2022, two persons were convicted in the case by a district court.

The above cases are examples of the few crimes against foreigners which resulted in arrests by the police and convictions by the courts in India. Data shows that most crimes committed against foreigners in India rarely reach the courts and convictions are even rarer. In the seven years between 2016 and 2022, 148 rape cases in which victims are foreigners have been recorded in India. In the same period, only 16 rape cases were disposed of by the courts. Disposal of cases includes convictions, discharges, acquittals, or even disposals without trial if the case gets quashed, withdrawn, abated or ended in a plea bargain. So disposals are some action taken by the court in a case.

Of those 16 cases, only seven resulted in convictions. So, approximately one in about 20 rape cases in which victims are foreigners result in convictions. This is only an approximation as even these seven convictions could have come in cases filed much before 2016. However, when cases reported and convictions achieved are compared over a period (in this case, seven years), it gives a sense of the volume of cases reported to the police and how many ultimately result in convictions.

Chart 1 shows a comparison of the incidents of crimes against foreigners reported to the police and the number of cases disposed of by the courts and those which resulted in convictions in the 2016 to 2022 period. Only a few types of crimes in which case volumes were high have been considered for analysis. For instance, 65 cases were reported under the Immoral Trafficking Prevention Act and no convictions were recorded. In the seven years, 35 forgery cases were reported and no convictions were recorded. Approximately, one in 88 thefts resulted in convictions. In the period considered, 79 foreigners were murdered, and in the same period, only three convictions were achieved.

The information in Chart 1 pertains to those cases which resulted in some action by the courts, either conviction or otherwise. But, many cases continue to be stuck in different stages of the trial for years, leading to an increasing backlog of court cases in which victims are foreigners. Chart 2 shows the number of court cases pending at the end of each year, in which victims are foreigners. The number of rape cases pending increased from 33 in 2016 to 131 in 2022. Cases of assault on women with intent to outrage her modesty increased from 70 to 137 in the period. Number of murder cases pending increased from 21 to 69.

4.PM launches India’s first underwater Metro line in Kolkata

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday inaugurated Kolkata Metro’s Esplanade-Howrah Maidan section, which passes below the mighty Hooghly river through the country’s first underwater transportation tunnel.

He also took a ride on a Metro train from Esplanade to Howrah Maidan and interacted with school students during the journey passing through the tunnel, which is a testament to the country’s engineering capabilities.

Mr. Modi returned to the Esplanade station through the same route, and was accompanied by Leader of the Opposition in the State, Suvendu Adhikari. Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee did not attend the programme.

The 4.8-km Esplanade-Howrah Maidan stretch, which is a part of the East-West Corridor, has been built at a cost of ₹4,965 crore, officials said.

Connecting zones

The ₹1,430-crore Kavi Subhash-Hemanta Mukhopadhyay section of the New Garia-Airport line was also inaugurated from the function at the Esplanade Metro station. The stretch, which is 5.4 km long, will bring the areas in the south-eastern parts of Kolkata on the Metro map, officials said.

5.Hundreds rally in Ladakh seeking Statehood, Sixth Schedule inclusion

Ladakh witnessed a shutdown and a protest rally on Wednesday calling for the grant of Statehood to the newly created Union Territory (UT) and inclusion in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution.

The protest comes after inconclusive talks between groups representing Ladakh – the Leh Apex Body (LAB) and Kargil Democratic Alliance (KDA) – and the Union Home Ministry.

“All religious organisations called for Leh Bandh in support of the LAB and KDA after the meeting with the Ministry of Home Affairs failed on March 4,” Jigmat Paljor, coordinator of the LAB, said. Hundreds of peaceful protesters assembled at Leh’s NDS Ground. A shutdown was observed in Kargil district.

A call for a bandh and ‘Leh Chalo’ was issued jointly by the LAB and the KDA.

Ladakh groups have been negotiating with the Ministry on three major demands: Statehood, inclusion in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, and creating an exclusive Public Service Commission for Ladakh. There is also a demand to increase the number of Lok Sabha seats from one to two.

Wangchuk to fast

Climate activist Sonam Wangchuk, while addressing the gathering at Leh, announced that he would go on a fast to press for the region’s demands.

“I want to follow the peaceful methods of Mahatma Gandhi, where he inflicted pain on himself. I want to inflict pain on myself rather than taking anyone hostage,” Mr. Wangchuk said.

6.Suspension of 7 BJP MLAs from Delhi Assembly set aside

The Delhi High Court on Wednesday set aside the suspension of seven Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) MLAs for interrupting Lieutenant-Governor Vinai Kumar Saxena’s address in the Assembly last month.

Terming the suspension by the Speaker “grossly unconstitutional”, the MLAs — Vijender Gupta, Ajay Kumar Mahawar, Anil Kumar Bajpai, Om Prakash Sharma, Jitender Mahajan, Mohan Singh Bisht and Abhay Verma — had approached the High Court challenging the decision.

The MLAs alleged that as the BJP had only eight legislators in the 70-member Assembly, suspension of seven of them was an attempt to silence the Opposition’s voice during the crucial Budget session.

The petitioners submitted that as there were allegations against them that they had disrupted the speech of the L-G, they had apologised to him and had also sent the apology acceptance letter to the Speaker.

Justice Subramonium Prasad passed the order for reinstatement of the MLAs.

The court held that the Speaker had not taken the decision independently and maintained that the matter was required to be referred to the Committee of Privileges.

7.President presents Sangeet Natak Akademi Awards

President Droupadi Murmu on Wednesday presented the Sangeet Natak Akademi Awards for 2022 and 2023 to eminent artists in the field of performing arts.

Ms. Murmu also gave away the Sangeet Natak Akademi Fellowship, or Akademi Ratna, to seven eminent artists. It is the highest honour given to artists for his or her exceptional contribution to a performing art form. The fellows are folklorist Vinayak Khedekar, veena virutoso R. Visweswaran, Kathak exponent Sunayana Hazarilal, Kuchipudi dancers Raja and Radha Reddy, and theatre artists Dulal Roy and D.P. Sinha.

Notable awardees

Twelve artists from the field of music, 12 from dance, 11 from folk and tribal arts, and nine from the field of theatre received the Akademi Awards for 2023.

Some of the notable awardees are Carnatic vocalist Bombay Jayashri Ramnath, Neyveli Narayanan for Carnatic instrumental (mridangam), Urmila Sathyanarayanan for Bharatanatyam, and Pallavi Krishnan for Mohiniyattam.

The Akademi Awards were fist given in 1952.

The Akademi fellows will receive an amount of ₹3 lakh, while the Akademi Award carries a prize money of ₹1 lakh. While giving away the awards, the President said that art was not just for the sake of art, it also had a social purpose.

“There are many such examples in history when artists used their art for social welfare. Artists have been contributing to awakening of society through their creations. Indian art is the best example of India’s soft-power,” Ms. Murmu added.

8.Navy commissions INS Jatayu, MH-60R helicopter squadron

This will strengthen the Indian Navy’s foothold in Lakshadweep islands, and strengthen India’s surveillance posture in the strategically located islands and critical sea lanes of communication

The Indian Navy on Wednesday commissioned INS Jatayu at Minicoy island, its second base in Lakshadweep after INS Dweeprakshak in Kavaratti.

Later, the Navy commissioned its first MH-60R multi-role helicopter squadron INAS 334 ‘Seahawks’ at Kochi, a major capability boost for its rotary fleet and its anti-submarine warfare capabilities.

INS Jatayu is the beginning of a phased expansion plan to strengthen India’s surveillance and security posture in the strategically located islands close to the Nine Degree channel and critical sea lanes of communication.

“This is very close to the Nine Degree channel, so this is the region [in] which lot of the maritime traffic flows both into and out of the Arabian Sea. So we hope to substantially improve our understanding and graph of the traffic that is flowing through it. So we will know who is operating here, who is passing through this area, what are they doing, what is their intent and so on. It will substantially improve our maritime domain awareness,” Chief of Naval Staff Admiral R. Hari Kumar said in Minicoy.

“Now, by commissioning this establishment, we hope to improve facilities, improve capacities. There will be more units based here, the radar surveillance capability, ability to provide MDA — all that will increase substantially,” Admiral Kumar said, adding, “In the island of Minicoy, there are plans for improving the jetty infrastructure, which will help us berth larger vessels, as well improve connectivity, [and] improve response and ability.”

INS Jatayu was commissioned at Minicoy island in the presence of Admiral Hari Kumar; Administrator of Lakshadweep, Praful K Patel; Vice-Admiral V. Srinivas, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Southern Naval Command; Vice-Admiral Sanjay J. Singh, Flag Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Naval Command. It will strengthen Indian Navy’s foothold in the Lakshadweep islands while extending capacity building, operational reach and sustenance in the region, and will add impetus to overall development of the islands. In this regard, Admiral Kumar noted that that the Navy had responded with “alacrity”, assuming an “assertive posture” in the west and north Arabian Sea, undertaking anti-drone and anti-piracy operations to safeguard all merchant traffic in the region.

Multi-role helicopters

The first MH-60R squadron of 48 officers and 170 men is commanded by Captain M. Abhisheik Ram, an experimental test pilot who has flown over 30 aircraft. The commissioning ceremony commenced with the reciting of an invocation, followed by a reading of the squadron’s commissioning warrant by the Commanding Officer. Thereafter, the commissioning plaque was unveiled by the Naval chief. The ceremony was marked with a scintillating fly-past by a formation of Seahawks, and a traditional water cannon salute with four helicopters to mark the historic moment.

9.RBI directs card issuers to let customers choose card network

Card issuers will have to provide an option to their eligible customers to choose from multiple card networks; currently, the choice of network for a card issued to a customer is decided based on arrangements card issuers have with card networks

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has directed card issuers, which include authorised payment system providers, banks and non-banks, not to enter into any arrangement or agreement with card networks that restrains them from availing the services of other card networks.

As per this directive, card issuers will have to provide an option to their eligible customers to choose from multiple card networks at the time of issue. For existing cardholders, this option needs to be provided at the time of the next renewal. These directions will be effective six months from the date of issue of this circular.

Currently in India, the authorised card networks include American Express Banking Corp., Diners Club International Ltd., MasterCard Asia/Pacific Pte. Ltd., National Payments Corporation of India–Rupay, and Visa Worldwide Pte. Ltd.

More options

As per the current practice, the authorised card networks tie-up with banks/non-banks for issuance of credit cards and the choice of network for a card issued to a customer is decided by the card issuer (bank/non-bank) and is linked to the arrangements that the card issuers have with card networks in terms of their bilateral agreements, the RBI said.

“On a review, it is observed that some arrangements existing between card networks and card issuers are not conducive to the availability of choice for customers,” the central bank said adding it had issued the fresh directive keeping the interest of the payment system and public interest in mind.

The banking regulator has asked card issuers and card networks to execute fresh agreements to accommodate the changes.

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