Daily Current Affairs : 17th November 2020

Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE

Topics Covered

  1. Parliament Session
  2. Vulture Action Plan 2020-25
  3. Recusal of Judge
  4. Economic implications of not joining RCEP
  5. Ethiopian govt. and Tigray Crisis
  6. Facts for Prelims

1 . Parliament Session

Context : The winter session of Parliament that usually commences by last week of November is unlikely to be held due to the high number of coronavirus (COVID -19) positive cases in Delhi, according to sources.

Constitutional Provisions regarding number of Session in a year

  • The Constitution of India requires the parliament to sit for a minimum of two sessions each year.
  • Article 85(1) of the Constitution says: “The President shall from time to time summon each House of Parliament to meet at such time and place as he thinks fit, but six months shall not intervene between its last sitting in one session and the date appointed for its first sitting in the next session.”
  • The parliament sits thrice in a year—Budget Session (February to May), Monsoon Session (July to September) and Winter Session (November to December). The period during which the House meets to transact its business is called a session.
  • The Constitution does not specify when or for how many days Parliament should meet. Article 85 only requires that there should not be a gap of more than six months between two sessions of Parliament. 
  • Facts for Prelims : Government of India Act, 1935, contained a provision relating to the summoning of the legislature in India. It specified that the central legislature had to be summoned to meet at least once a year, and that not more than 12 months could elapse between two sessions. 

How session dates are decided

  • Parliament must be convened by the President at least once in every six months.  Since the President acts on the advice of the central government, the duration of the session is decided by the government.
  • The Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA) meets to decide the dates of the session and an announcement has to be made giving the members at least two weeks of notice.

Past instances where a session was skipped

  • As per the Parliamentary records, there had been only three such instances – 1975, 1979 and 1984.

Importance of Parliament & Parliamentary Session

  • The Constitution provides for the legislature to make laws, the government to implement laws, and the courts to interpret and enforce these laws.  While the judiciary is independent from the other two branches, the government is formed with the support of a majority of members in the legislature.  Therefore, the government is collectively responsible to Parliament for its actions. 
  • This implies that Parliament (i.e. Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha) can hold the government accountable for its decisions, and scrutinise its functioning. 
  • This may be done using various methods including, during debates on Bills or issues on the floor of Parliament, by posing questions to ministers during Question Hour, and in parliamentary committees.
  • Law-making is dependent on when Parliament meets. Also, a thorough scrutiny of the government’s functioning and deliberation on national issues can only take place when the two Houses are in session. Predictability in the functioning of Parliament is key to a well-functioning democracy.

2 . Vulture Action Plan 2020-25

Context : Union Minister for Environment, Forests and Climate Change Prakash Javadekar Monday launched a Vulture Action Plan 2020-25 for the conservation of vultures in the country.

Vultures in India

  • There are nine recorded species of vultures in India — the Oriental white-backed, long-billed, slender-billed, Himalayan, red-headed, Egyptian, bearded, cinereous and the Eurasian Griffon.

Background of the Issue

  • Vulture numbers saw a steep slide — as much as 90 per cent in some species — in India since the 1990s in one of the most drastic declines in bird populations in the world.
  • While the ministry has been carrying out a conservation project for vultures since 2006, the plan is to now extend the project to 2025 to not just halt the decline but to actively increase the vulture numbers in India.
  • Between the 1990s and 2007, numbers of three presently critically-endangered species – the Oriental white-backed, long-billed and slender-billed vultures — crashed massively with 99 per cent of the species having been wiped out. The number of red-headed vultures, also critically-endangered now, declined by 91% while the Egyptian vultures by 80%.
  • The Egyptian vulture is listed as ‘endangered’ while the Himalayan, bearded and cinereous vultures are ‘near threatened’.

Reasons for declining Population

  • The crash in vulture populations came into limelight in the mid-90s, and in 2004 the cause of the crash was established as diclofenac — a veterinary nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) used to treat pain and inflammatory diseases such as gout — in carcasses that vultures would feed off.
  • “Just 0.4-0.7 per cent of animal carcasses contaminated with diclofenac was sufficient to decimate 99 per cent of vulture populations.

Action Plan for Vulture Conservation 2006

  • The MoEFCC released the Action Plan for Vulture Conservation 2006 with the DCGI banning the veterinary use of diclofenac in the same year and the decline of the vulture population being arrested by 2011.

Vulture Conservation and Breeding Programme

  • The Central Zoo Authority (CZA) and Bombay Natural History Society (BNHS) also established the Vulture Conservation Breeding Programme, which has been successful and had three critically-endangered species bred in captivity for the first time. Eight centres have been established and, so far, 396 vultures of the three species have successfully fledged.

Initiatives under Vulture Action Plan 2020-25

  • The ministry has now also launched conservation plans for the red-headed and Egyptian vultures, with breeding programmes for both.
  • The Vulture Safe Zone programme is being implemented at eight different places in the country where there were extant populations of vultures, including two in Uttar Pradesh.
  • Attempts are made to secure the population of vulture by ensuring the minimum use of Diclofenac and an area is declared a Vulture Safe Zone only when no toxic drugs are found in undercover pharmacy and cattle carcass surveys, for two consecutive years, and the vulture populations are stable and not declining.
  • The action plan aims to carry forth what has already been set in motion by ensuring that sale of veterinary NSAIDs is regulated and livestock are treated only by qualified veterinarians.
  • The Ministry also plans on carrying out safety testing of available NSAIDs on vultures and to develop new ones which do not affect vultures.
  • Additional Conservation Breeding Centres are also being planned across the country, along with Vulture Conservation Centres with samples and information collected from the wild analysed and stored at these centres — one each in Uttar Pradesh, Tripura, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
  • Four rescue centres have been proposed for different geographical areas like Pinjore in the north, Bhopal in ventral India, Guwahati in Northeast and Hyderabad in South India.

3 . Recusal of Judge

Context : Justice U.U. Lalit of the Supreme Court on Monday recused himself from hearing separate writ petitions that sought action against the Andhra Pradesh government and Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy for levelling “false, vague and political allegations” against apex court judge Justice N.V. Ramana and other High Court judges. The judge, who leads a three-member Bench, withdrew from hearing the case, explaining that he had, as a lawyer, represented some of the parties involved in the case.

Recusal of a Judge

  • The Constitution vests a lot of power and certain amount of immunity in judges. Fairness and impartiality are the fundamental qualities to be possessed by a judge.
  • In India, for the vast majority of cases, there are no reports of having been heard by a partial and unfair judge but there are instances where the contrary happens.
  • Once it appears to the judge that he cannot deliver justice in an impartial manner, ethically he is expected to recuse.
  • The right to recuse is given to the discretion of the judges.
  • In one of the landmark cases, Ashok Kumar Yadav v. State of Haryana, the Supreme Court tried to explain the reasons behind recusal. Rather than leaving it to the absolute discretion of the judges, the likelihood of bias was focused on. If there is a reasonable chance for the judge to be biased, the judge is supposed to recuse himself. This stems up from the principle laid down by Lord Hewart CJ in the case of R v Sussex Justices, ex parte McCarthy “Not only must Justice be done; it must also be seen to be done”. In general, the Indian judiciary has followed this principle and even in case of recusal, the judiciary has recommended itself to follow this.

4 . Economic implications of not joining RCEP

Economic Implication

  • There are concerns that India’s decision would impact its bilateral trade ties with RCEP member nations, as they may be more inclined to focus on bolstering economic ties within the bloc. The move could potentially leave India with less scope to tap the large market that RCEP presents —the size of the deal is mammoth, as the countries involved account for over 2 billion of the world’s population.
  • Given attempts by countries like Japan to get India back into the deal, there are also worries that India’s decision could impact the Australia-India-Japan network in the Indo-Pacific. It could potentially put a spanner in the works on informal talks to promote a Supply Chain Resilience Initiative among the three.
  • However, India’s stance on the deal also comes as a result of learnings from unfavourable trade balances that it has with several RCEP members, with some of which it even has FTAs. An internal assessment by the government has revealed that the growth in trade (CAGR) with partners over the last five financial years was a modest 7.1%. While “there has been growth rate in both imports from and exports to these FTA partners”, the “utilisation rate” of FTAs both for India and its partners has been “moderate” across sectors, according to this study, which covers pacts with Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Thailand, Singapore, Japan, Bhutan, Nepal, Republic of Korea and Malaysia.
  • India has trade deficits with 11 of the 15 RCEP countries, and some experts feel that India has been unable to leverage its existing bilateral free trade agreements with several RCEP members to increase exports.
  • “You don’t get into FTAs merely to provide your market to your partner countries. While you accommodate your partner countries, your objective is also to increase the presence of your products in the markets of your partners, and India hasn’t been able to achieve the latter objective

5 . Ethiopian govt. and Tigray Crisis

Context : Ethiopia’s Nobel Prize winning Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed started a military operation in the rebellious Tigray region in the country’s north earlier this month. Mr. Abiy has said it would be a limited campaign focusing on the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the militia-cum-political party that runs the region. However, almost two weeks into the conflict, Ethiopia risks falling into an ethnic civil war with regional implications.

Who is TPLF?

  • The TPLF was founded in 1975 as a resistance army of the Tigrayan people against the military dictatorship, which was called Derg.
  • The leftist Derg, which was formed in 1974, would change its title in 1987 but practically remained in power till it was ousted by the armed rebels in 1991
  • The TPLF played a crucial role in ousting the junta from power and they were welcomed as national heroes in 1991.
  • TPLF leader Meles Zenawi took over as the interim President in 1991 and became the first elected Prime Minister in 1995. He is largely seen as the architect of the country’s ethno-federal system and remained in power till 2012. But over the years, the government led by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), the coalition put together by Mr. Zenawi, was accused of being increasingly authoritarian and there were frequent mass protests in the regions.
  • Though the EPRDF contains regional political parties such as the Amhara Democratic Party, the Oromo Democratic Party and the Southern Ethiopian People’s Democratic Movement, the TPLF remained the dominant political force. In 2018, the EPRDF chose Mr. Abiy, a former military intelligence officer, to lead the government amid growing protests and a political deadlock.

What caused the rift between Abiy and the TPLF?

  • Though the EPRDF provided a stable rule with high economic growth for 17 years, there was mounting criticism against the country’s ethno-federal arrangement. The Tigray people make up roughly 6% of the population, while the Oromos have a 34% share and the Amharas 27%. While the TPLF controlled the levers of power through the EPRDF, the Oromos alleged marginalistion and called for better representation
  • As Prime Minister, Mr. Abiy took a host of steps to cut the outsized influence of the TPLF in the government. He purged TPLF functionaries from key government posts, released political prisoners (jailed by the TPLF-led government) and promised freer media. He reached out to Eritrea, a sworn enemy of the TPLF, which shares a long border with the Tigray region.
  • Mr. Abiy, the country’s first Oromo leader, claimed that his actions are not driven by ethnic calculations but rather aimed at addressing the historic power imbalance in the country and making peace with the neighbours. But the TPLF saw his moves as hostile.

What triggered the conflict?

  • When Mr. Abiy formed a new political coalition, the Prosperity Party, all constituents of the EPRDF, except the TPLF, joined the new platform. The TPLF saw the formation of a new party as an attempt by Mr. Abiy to consolidate more power in hands. The party’s leadership shifted from Addis Ababa to Mekele, the Tigray regional capital. In August, when Mr. Abiy’s government decided to postpone parliamentary elections, citing COVID-19, the TPLF openly challenged the decision. They accused the Prime Minister of power grab and went ahead holding elections in the region in defiance of the federal government. Then on November 3, TPLF militants attacked a federal military command in the Tigray region and captured military hardware and equipment, prompting Mr. Abiy to declare the military operation.

Is there a geopolitical angle?

  • Mr. Abiy’s outreach to Eritrea had outraged the TPLF, which had fought a prolonged war with the Eritrean government along the Tigray border. The TPLF now accuses Eritrea of backing Mr. Abiy’s offensive. On Sunday, the rebels fired rockets into Eritrea from Tigray, threatening a wider regional war in the Horn of Africa.
  • Tigray rebels also fired rockets into the neighbouring Amhara region. Even if Mr. Abiy is serious about keeping the operation short, it could spill out of control given the underlying complexities of the conflict. The TPLF’s old guard cut their teeth in the resistance against the Derg and they have thousands of fighters under their command. Also, the Tigray region shares a border with Sudan. The TPLF enjoyed good relations with Sudan’s ousted dictator Omar Bashir.
  • Sudan has an unresolved border dispute with Ethiopia. If Sudan’s new rulers (the transition government includes civilian and military leaders) keep the old links with the TPLF active and the border open for the rebels, the conflict could go on. If it does, it could derail Mr. Abiy’s reform agenda at home as well as the diplomatic agenda abroad

6 . Facts for Prelims

New Drug Resistant TB drugs

  • Bedaquiline and Delamanid are called as new DR-TB drugs

FDI limits

  • 26% cap on FDI under government route for uploading/streaming of news and current affairs through digital media on the lines of print media.

Why Chinese goods are preferred (Mains Specific)

  • A Survey was recently conducted on the use of Chines Products
  • Chinese products continued to find favour among more than a fourth of Indian households as they offered higher ‘value for money’ even as a majority of respondents chose to skip products made in China
  • Asked what prompted them to choose Chinese products, 66% respondents who purchased made-in-China products said they did so because they found the products offered ‘value for money’, while 13% chose them for their “uniqueness”. “Though 71% consumers did not buy made-in-China products this festive season, many of those who did, ended up doing so because of lower prices
  • “With earnings impacted… for many households this year, buying the lowest-cost product was not a choice but the only option
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