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IASbaba’s Daily Current Affairs 21st Aug, 2017
Published on Aug. 21, 2017, 9:42 p.m.

IASbaba’s Daily Current Affairs – 21st Aug 2017

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ENVIRONMENT 

TOPIC:

General Studies 2

  • Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.

General Studies 3

  • Conservation, Environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment.

Ecology versus Development

In news:

Ecological destruction has always been a serious consequence of humankind’s push for development. Needless to say, the ecology versus development conundrum has been hotly debated. In the post-liberalization era, it is said India lost over 14,000 sq km of pristine forest to industrial and infrastructural projects. Some may say it is a small price to pay to be on the right side of development. More often than not, proponents of development want us to believe that the cost-benefit calculation of environmental devastation is reckoned correctly before such a call is made. But this is seldom the case.

Rich wildlife diversity:

India is uniquely placed in terms of wildlife diversity. It is considered to be a custodian of many species that are either extinct or found only in very low numbers elsewhere. Besides, having successfully implemented initiatives such as Project Tiger — the biggest such when launched in 1973 — India is looked upon as a global leader in conservation. India has one of the highest densities of carnivores — 58 to every sq km.

Arbitrary decisions:

Arbitrary decisions are being made, mostly under pressure from unscrupulous politicians and greedy industrialists. Those who have been entrusted with the task of guarding our natural heritage have been surrendering themselves to these powers. Any resistance to this rampant destruction of the environment is often stubbed either by withholding information from those fighting for the cause or by feeding them half-baked information.

Transformation and erosion:

  • While the 1970s and 1980s saw the enactment of many progressive pieces of legislation such as the Wildlife Protection Act 1972 and the Forest (Conservation) Act 1980, the subsequent decades, particularly the 1990s, were a dampener for conservation efforts in the country.
  • The decade that witnessed a dramatic transformation in India’s political and economic situation, also saw an erosion in political support for the environment. During that period, many sanctuaries were dismembered to make way for industry and infrastructure.
  • During the PV Narasimha Rao regime, the focus was completely on economic liberalisation. The ensuing climate of deregulation saw the loosening of environmental safeguards painstakingly built over the preceding two decades. During this period, laws concerning the environment were either manipulated or bypassed with quiescent, if not active political and bureaucratic support. The Indian Board of Wildlife, which was later rechristened as the NBWL, did not meet even once for eight years, between 1989 and 1997.
  • In 2002, through an order, the Supreme Court ruled that all major projects — industrial or infrastructural — should be placed before the standing committee of the NBWL, before clearance was given. But on the ground, having such a checks and balances mechanism did nothing to improve environmental governance in the country. On the contrary, it became a convenient tool in the hands of politicians and bureaucrats in the ministry of environment and forests to issue environmental clearances with impunity. Whenever they faced a stumbling block, they unabashedly diluted the provisions of the law.

Collapsing environmental governance:

In India, it is rather rare that an industry or project has been turned down for possible environmental impact. The environment ministry turned down none of the 1,086 industrial and thermal power projects submitted between 2006 and 2008.

 The MoEF has shed its fig leaf of a protection agenda, and positioned itself as a ministry tasked with the Government’s mission of ‘ease of doing business’, and in a series of measures diluted and dissolved regulatory regimes.

Case Study: The 3,000 MW Dibang multipurpose project in Arunachal Pradesh. The dam, which is twice the size of the controversial Sardar Sarovar dam on the Narmada river, was denied forest clearance twice in 2013. But a year later, it received the green signal not because the project was modified consequently but because the constitution of the Forest Advisory Committee was tweaked suitably.

Negligent EIA:

Monumental decisions which lay to waste our natural heritage, and destroys lives and livelihoods, are based on shoddy Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs).

Case Study: The EIA of the much-talked about Ken-Betwa river linking project is a case in point. It is factually inaccurate, inept, mala fide and misleading. The dam of the Ken-Betwa link, powerhouse and a large part of the reservoir will submerge nearly 90 sq km of the Panna National Park, an important tiger reserve. Out of this, over 58 sq km is in the core critical tiger habitat, deemed inviolate and sacrosanct according to the wildlife protection laws in the country. The initial EIA said 32,900 trees would go, and when independent experts pointed out the incongruity, the number was revised to a shocking 13.96 lakh, of which over 11 lakh are within the national park.

Conclusion:

Thus, in the discourse of development and ecology, it can be said that its development which is being focused upon. The government needs to create a synergy between the two and adopt a balance approach. Steps like revamping process of EIA, strengthening environmental regulatory authorities etc. Should be taken on urgent basis.

Connecting the dots:

  • Ecological destruction has always been a serious consequence of humankind’s push for development. While, proponents of development want us to believe that any development initiative is taken only after ensuring environment is protected, this is seldom the case. Discuss.

NATIONAL

TOPIC:

General Studies 1

  • Social empowerment

General Studies 2

  • Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.
  • Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes

Invisible Expansion of Unfreedom

Background:

As India completes 70 years of its existence as a free nation-state, two contradictory tendencies mark its collective existence. One is the ambition to make India a global power. This search for power is based on a perception of national greatness as a society, as a culture, and increasingly, also, as a market. But at the same time, clouds of unfreedom hover over our existence as individuals, as consumers and as groups within the would-be great nation-state.

Signs of unfreedom:

  • The case of the cow- Those from the Muslim community who earn their livelihood from the meat trade are targets of suspicion and mob attacks with impunity. We seem to ignore that a sacred animal for one community need not be made forcibly sacred for others too. Forced devotion is not freedom. The implicit argument is that being a Hindu majority society, what some Hindus think to be part of Hinduism has to be acceptable as a norm for everyone. We also ignore the fact that trade and livelihood interests of sections of Dalits are also at stake or the fact that the cow might not be a sacred animal for many Dalits and Adivasis — despite their formal adherence to, and inclusion in, the Hindu fold.
  • The case of nationalism- Our newly enforced ideas of patriotism and nationalism imply that it is not enough for a citizen to be a law-abiding person, co-operative and compassionate towards other citizens, ready for occasional service to the collective cause and proud of the national community in an inarticulate and diffuse manner. These are times when people are forced to do what they don't want to when it comes to nationalism. Playing the anthem in cinema halls has become a new test of nationalism; shouting Bharat Mata ki Jai has become a new insurance for personal security from nationalist hoodlums, playing Vande Mataram has become judicially ordained. All this becomes enforceable by private armies of vigilantes. They have all the freedom. Citizens have only duties.
  • The censor board is an important flagbearer of this unfreedom. The argument is that what is not “Indian” culture, should not be allowed on the screen. And this argument believes that sexuality and sensuality are un-Indian. So, no artistic freedom or creative space. Culture trumps freedom.
  • Beyond politically more sensitive and publicised matters, our private persons and public lives and spaces are being gradually subjected to an unwritten censorship. Slowly, the ethic of vegetarianism is being extended to formal and semi-formal occasions. While official patronage to vegetarianism expands, the informal pressure against non-vegetarians is becoming palpable in many residential locations. Instances of powerful communities demanding a ban on the trade of meat for long durations are gaining acceptance.
  • Violent protests have already taken place against women going to pubs. Implicit in such instances are small, disparate cultural norms that are emerging afresh to define what it means to be a good woman. Dress codes are becoming prevalent and glorified. While sexual violence against women is indeed a problem, we are ready with an effective solution — segregation of the two sexes (indeed, in this scheme of things there can only be two sexes), and a strict monitoring of their possible interactions. The Hindu religious motif is so strong in regulating male-female interaction that recently a circular was issued (subsequently withdrawn) by an officer of the government of Daman & Diu ordering all women employees to tie a rakhi to their male colleagues. This diktat ordained a particular relationship between men and women — anything else is not “Indian”.

Issues:

  • We do not recognize the expanding realm of fear and unfreedom. Instead of thinking of issues of freedom as a matter of principle, we treat them as matters of prudence. So, we ignore what happens to Muslims, we ignore what happens to Dalits, the worries of film producers and distributors are far from our lives. The freedom of women does not matter to us. We are ready to ignore others’ loss of freedom without realising that the messengers of unfreedom are knocking at our own doors.
  • The other aspect is about agencies of unfreedom. The usual suspects in the business of unfreedom are state and religion. But new social energies are involving themselves with the task of restricting the freedoms of individuals and groups. There is an army of self-appointed vigilantes who would define the limits of our freedom. The state seems happily complicit in allowing them a free run.
  • But more fearsome is the invisible expansion of the realm of unfreedom. Not the state, not religion, nor even the vigilantes. It is simply a cultural norm and the fear of being singled out that reins in freedoms. As a society and as individuals, we are quick to succumb to this fear and to the temptation of being unfree.

Connecting the dots:

  • The public needs to take the signs of unfreedom ranging from cow vigilantism, forced nationalism, censorship of movies, enforced rules and dress codes for women etc. Seriously. Discuss.

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