11th February 2021

Lahaul-Spiti residents want hydro projects in the region scrapped

  • In the wake of the Uttarakhand avalanche, there is increased anxiety among the people in the Lahaul-Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh who have been up in arms against the hydropower projects proposed in this tribal region.
  • Among the projects proposed in Lahul-Spiti are Tandi (104 Mega Watt), Rashil (102 MW), Bardang (126 MW), Miyar (90 MW) and Jispa (300 MW).

CONCERNS

  • Noted environmentalist Kulbhushan Upmanyu said various independent studies published over the last two decades had pointed out vulnerabilities of construction of hydro power projects in Himalayan region.
  • There exists growing risks of lake formations and glacial lake outbursts but it was a matter of concern that the findings of these studies had not been converted into policy.
  • The state government should consider the fragile ecology of the tribal belt of Himachal and accordingly prepare a plan for sustainable development rather than focusing on monetary benefits from hydro power projects.
  • The government should rethink its strategy on exploiting hydro power potential in the state and take corrective measures accordingly.
  • The governments so far had not learnt lessons from Kedarnath tragedy and it was the reason that the projects were being constructed in Uttarakhand.
  • Ravi Chopra Committee  had earlier pointed out the role of hydropower in exacerbating the impact of the Kedarnath flash floods.
  • In the joint statement, the 13 NGOs and civil rights groups stated that lack of concern for the environment was the reason that the dam building agenda continues unabated and unabashed in the Himalayas.
  • In Himachal, hydro power projects worth 10,000 MW have already been built by changing land use that have gobbled forests, farms, caused landslides, soil erosion and impacted the river ecosystems at an enormous scale.
  • According to the State Disaster Management Authority, most of Himachal’s hydropower projects in operation or under construction fall in areas highly vulnerable to various hazards like landslides and floods.
  • In fact, the Avay Shukla Committee report which was submitted to HP High Court has recommended a moratorium on new hydropower projects in the state for this reason. But the state government has ignored the report completely.
  • Most of the planned projects that were yet to come up in Himachal were in the climate vulnerable and ecologically fragile regions of Kinnaur and Lahaul Spiti.
  • These were located in the upper Satluj valley and Lahaul on Chandrabhaga river, also known as Chenab, where tribal communities were resisting these projects.
  • These are also geologically unstable terrains prone to earthquakes and avalanches.
  • A study by researchers from the University of Potsdam, Germany that analysed 273 hydropower projects in the Himalayas in India, Nepal and Bhutan found that about 25% of them were likely to face severe damage from quake-triggered landslides.

 

An 84-year-old on a mission to conserve rare mango varieties

  • 84-year-old Beluru Subbanna Heggade (B.V. Subba Rao) has collected more than 100 appe midi varieties of mango, which were on the verge of extinction.
  • He has preserved these mangoes, used for pickling as whole fruit, by growing them on his premises in Belur of Sagar taluk in Shivamogga district.

PREMIUM VARIETIES:

  • His collection includes some 10 rare and premium varieties such as Dombesara Jeerige, Genasinakudi jeerege, Cheene thota jeerege, Baagi jeerige, Barige jeerige. They have a distinct taste and aroma. Also, they have a shelf life ranging from three to five years.
  • The Indian Institute of Horticultural Research honoured Mr. Heggade for his conservation efforts at its ongoing national horticultural fair in Hessarghatta on Wednesday.
  • In all, the Institute now has about 200 appe midi varieties of mango. Of them, four to five varieties have premium characteristics and are ideal for exporting.

 

RS passes ports Bill despite opposition

  • The Rajya Sabha on Wednesday passed the Major Ports Authority Bill, 2020 with 84 votes in favour and 44 against.
  • Union Minister of State for Ports, Shipping and Waterways said the Bill aimed to make the ports world class and give the port authorities power to make their own decisions. He denied the Opposition’s charge that it would lead to privatisation.

OBJECTIVES:

  • Decentralise decision making and infuse professionalism in governance of major ports.
  • Impart faster and transparent decision making benefiting the stakeholders and better project execution capability.
  • Reorient the governance model in central ports to landlord port model in line with the successful global practice.

FEATURES:

  • The bill seeks to provide for regulation, operation and planning of major ports in the country and provide greater autonomy to these ports
  • It seeks to replace the Major Port Trusts Act, 1963. The legislation provides for the creation of a Board of Major Port Authority for each major port. 
  • These Boards will replace the existing Port Trusts.

 

India is an important partner in the Indo-Pacific region, says U.S.

  • Describing India as one of the most important partners of the U.S. in the Indo-Pacific region, the Joe Biden administration recently said it welcomes India’s emergence as a leading global power.
  • India is one of the most important partners in the Indo-Pacific region for us. USA welcomes India’s emergence as a leading global power and its role as a net security provider in the region.
  • India and USA reaffirmed the strength of the U.S.-India partnership and discussed issues of mutual concern, including the situation in Myanmar.

REGIONAL DEVELOPMENTS:

  1. India and US also discussed regional developments, including the value of U.S.-India cooperation across the Indo-Pacific.
  2. Both sides look forward to expanded regional cooperation, including through the Quad, and to address the challenges related to COVID-19 and climate change.
  3. U.S.-India Comprehensive Global Strategic Partnership is both broad as well as multifaceted.
  4. Both the nations will continue to engage at the highest levels to deepen cooperation on many fronts, and are confident that the strong and upward trajectory of the partnership will, in fact, continue.
  5. US welcomes India joining the Security Council in the last month of this year for a two-year term.
  6. The U.S. also remains India’s largest and most important trading partner, with the total bilateral trade increasing to $146 billion in 2019. U.S. companies are a large source of India’s foreign direct investment.

INDO-PACIFIC

  • The Indo-Pacific, sometimes known as the Indo–West Pacific or Indo–Pacific Asia, is a biogeographic region of Earth’s seas, comprising the tropical waters of the Indian Ocean, the western and central Pacific Ocean, and the seas connecting the two in the general area of Indonesia.
  • Area covered by the Indo-Pacific biogeographic region.
  • The earlier term used to be Asia-Pacific, from which India was excluded. This term was prevalent during the cold war time.
  • The shift to the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ shows the salience of India in the new construct.
  • Since 2011, the term “Indo-Pacific” has been increasingly used in geopolitical discourse.
  • It also has “symbiotic link” with the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, or “Quad”, an informal grouping of like-minded democracies in the region, comprising Australia, Japan, India, and the United States.
  • The concept may lead to a change in popular “mental maps” of how the world is understood in strategic terms.
  • The term ‘Indo-Pacific’ is interpreted differently by different stakeholders.
  • India considers the region as an inclusive, open, integrated and balanced space. India continuously emphasises on strategic inter-connections, common challenges and opportunities between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific.
  • The U.S. considers it to be a free and open Indo-Pacific, highlighting the importance of rules or norms of conduct in the region, thus trying to contain the role of China in the region.
  • The ASEAN countries look at Indo-Pacific as a consociational model, thus bringing in China not only for the sake of giving it some stakeholdership but looking for ways to cooperate with it in the region.

 

On fastest highway, wildlife gets safe passage with bridges, passes

  • On India’s fastest highway — the under-construction Nagpur-Mumbai Super Communication Expressway, which is designed for a top speed of 150 kmph — the focus is on co-existence, with five “wildlife bridges” and a network of underpasses being built.
  • The 701-km-long and 120-m-broad highway, which will be partly commissioned this May, cuts across three sanctuaries— Tansa (Thane), Katepurna (Akola-Washim border) and Karanja-Sohol (Washim) — and 35 wildlife focus areas (WFAs) – 16 in Vidharbha, 16 in the North Western Ghats, 3 in Marathwada — stretched over 118 km across the route. And there is a lot more at stake than a roadkill.

COEXISTENCE

  • A high-speed corridor cutting across wildlife habitat can severely restrict the movement of animals, altering their behaviour and dispersal patterns.
  • Mindful of this, the Maharashtra State Road Development Corporation (MSRDC), that is building the highway, joined forces with the Wildlife Institute of India (WII) to engineer safe wildlife crossings.
  • The idea is to give native animals a way to get across the road without endangering themselves.
  • The good thing about this highway is that it is the first one where wildlife mitigation has been considered, even as it does not cut across any of the protected areas of a forest.
  • While animal underpasses are not new, the five “wildlife bridges” — three overpasses in the wildlife focus areas of the project in Vidarbha and two in the highlands of Aurangabad — are the first of their kind in India.
  • This stretch of the highway is located in the middle of a functional corridor between the Bor Tiger Reserve and the Umred-Karhandla Wildlife Sanctuary.
  • Besides tigers, the area is also home to the nilgai, sambar, chinkara, wild boar, Indian hare, porcupine, striped hyena and golden jackal.
  • Fragmentation of such patches can lead to destruction of habitat, and also affect the animal density and movement,” the WII had said in a report which advocated the overpass to avoid a man-animal conflict.
  • The wildlife bridge will also be covered with native flora. The art is to make it look as natural as possible. An animal should be happy to use the crossing.

 

Israel wants India by its side against ICC ruling, Delhi silent

  • Israel is pushing “good friend” India to take a stand against a ruling last week by the International Criminal Court claiming jurisdiction over Palestinian territories.
  • Delhi, still navigating its way through the big shifts in West Asia, is reluctant to be drawn in.

INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT:

  • The International Criminal Court (ICC or ICCt) is an intergovernmental organization and international tribunal that sits in The Hague, Netherlands.
  • The ICC is the first and only permanent international court with jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and the crime of aggression.
  • It is intended to complement existing national judicial systems and it may therefore exercise its jurisdiction only when national courts are unwilling or unable to prosecute criminals.
  • The ICC lacks universal territorial jurisdiction, and may only investigate and prosecute crimes committed within member states, crimes committed by nationals of member states, or crimes in situations referred to the Court by the United Nations Security Council.

CONDEMNATION:

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote to Indian Prime Minister, whom he described recently as a “great friend”, asking India to speak out against the decision, and to send a clear message to the ICC “to stop this assault on justice and common sense”.
  • Delhi has not responded to Netanyahu’s February 7 communication, which came two days after the ICC ruling.
  • Instead Delhi has conveyed through diplomatic channels that since India is not a member of the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the ICC, it would not want to comment or take a position on any of the court’s decisions or rulings.
  • Israel, which is also not a member of the Rome Statute, has condemned the ICC ruling as “outrageous” and said the decision had exposed the court as “a political body”.
  • Israel said the ICC “has no authority to make such a decision” since Israel does not recognise the court’s jurisdiction and the Palestinian Authority is not a sovereign state. Netanyahu called the ruling “antisemitism”.

VERDICT

  • The ICC’s majority 2-1 decision on February 5 was made on the basis of Palestine’s 2015 accession to the Rome Statuteafter its acceptance as a “non-member observer state” of the UN General Assembly in 2012.
  • The court made it clear that the ruling was not a determination of Palestinian statehood.
  • The ruling came 14 months after ICC prosecutor said there was “reasonable evidence” that war crimes were being committed in Palestinian territories of West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Prosecutor named both the Israeli Defence Forces and Hamas as possible perpetrators.

INDIA’S ROLE IN ICC

  • India, which had participated actively in the Preparatory Committee for the Establishment of the ICC, had however abstained from the motion to adopt the Rome Statute, for several reasons, including jurisdictional issues, fearing that the ICC might exercise its jurisdiction in areas such as Kashmir and the North-East, which it considers “internal issues” that are hands off for international actors.
  • The spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs offered no comment to questions on Netanyahu’s appeal to Prime Minister Modi, and the reasons for India not saying anything on the issue.
  • A diplomatic source said it was “not a break or make issue” in bilateral ties, nonetheless a positive response from Delhi would have been “important”.
  • Israel, which sees India as a “like-minded” nation, expected a positive response from Delhi, especially as the ruling could be a precedent-setter and may come back to bite on Kashmir or other troubled spots.
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