Daily Current Affairs for UPSC CSE
- Kuril Islands
- Country of Particular Concern
- Dispute between Central Govt and Delhi Govt
- Labour force participation Rate
- Civil Registration System
- Small Satellite Launch Vehicle
- Facts for Prelims
1 . Kuril Islands Issue
Context : The Russian invasion of Ukraine seems to have brought to the forefront some other disputes that Russia has with the West’s allies. On April 22, Japan’s Diplomatic Bluebook for 2022 described the Kuril Islands (which Japan calls the Northern Territories and Russia as the South Kurils) as being under Russia’s “illegal occupation”. This is the first time in about two decades that Japan has used this phrase to describe the dispute over the Kuril Islands. Japan had been using softer language since 2003, saying that the dispute over the islands was the greatest concern in Russia-Japan bilateral ties.
What are the Kuril Islands/ Northern Territories?
- These are a set of four islands situated between the Sea of Okhotsk and the Pacific Ocean near the north of Japan’s northernmost prefecture, Hokkaido.
- Both Moscow and Tokyo claim sovereignty over them though the islands have been under Russian control since the end of World War II.
- The Soviet Union had seized the islands at the end of World War II and by 1949 had expelled its Japanese residents.
- Tokyo claims that the disputed islands have been part of Japan since the early 19th century.
What lies behind the dispute?
- According to Tokyo, Japan’s sovereignty over the islands is confirmed by several treaties like the Shimoda Treaty of 1855, the 1875 Treaty for the exchange of Sakhalin for the Kuril Islands (Treaty of St. Petersburg), and the Portsmouth Treaty of 1905 signed after the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05 which Japan had won.
- Russia, on the other hand, claims the Yalta Agreement (1945) and the Potsdam Declaration (1945) as proof of its sovereignty and argues that the San Francisco Treaty of 1951 is legal evidence that Japan had acknowledged Russian sovereignty over the islands.
- Under Article 2 of the treaty, Japan had “renounced all right, title and claim to the Kuril Islands.”
- However, Japan argues that the San Francisco Treaty cannot be used here as the Soviet Union never signed the peace treaty. Japan also refuses to concede that the four disputed islands were in fact part of the Kuril chain. In fact, Japan and Russia are technically still at war because they have not signed a peace treaty after World War II.
- In 1956, during Japanese Prime Minister Ichiro Hatoyama’s visit to the Soviet Union, it was suggested that two of the four islands would be returned to Japan once a peace treaty was signed. However, persisting differences prevented the signing of a peace treaty though the two countries signed the Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration, which restored diplomatic relations between the two nations.
- The Soviet Union later hardened its position, even refusing to recognise that a territorial dispute existed with Japan. It was only in 1991 during Mikhail Gorbachev’s visit to Japan that the USSR recognised that the islands were the subject of a territorial dispute.
Have there been attempts at resolution?
- Since 1991, there have been many attempts to resolve the dispute and sign a peace treaty. The most recent attempt was under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe when joint economic development of the disputed islands was explored.
- In fact, both countries had agreed to have bilateral negotiations based on the 1956 Japan-Soviet Joint Declaration. Russia was even willing to give back two islands, the Shikotan Island and the Habomai islets, to Japan after the conclusion of a peace treaty as per the 1956 declaration.
- Japan’s attempt to improve ties with Russia was driven by its need to diversify energy sources and Russia by its need to diversify its basket of buyers and bring in foreign investments. But nationalist sentiments on both sides prevented resolution of the dispute.
2 . Country of Particular Concern
Context : In its 2022 Annual report, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has recommended that India be designated a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ (CPC), i.e., the category of governments performing most poorly on religious freedom criteria. It has also called for “targeted sanctions” on individuals and entities responsible for severe violations of religious freedom by freezing those individuals’ or entities’ assets and/or barring their entry” into the U.S.
What is the USCIRF and how is it constituted?
- The USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan body created by the International Religious Freedom Act, 1998 (IRFA) with a mandate to monitor religious freedom violations globally and make policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and the Congress.
- It is a congressionally created entity and not an NGO or advocacy organisation. It is led by nine part-time commissioners appointed by the President and the leadership of both political parties in the House and the Senate.
- According to the IRFA, commissioners are “selected among distinguished individuals noted for their knowledge and experience in fields relevant to the issue of international religious freedom, including foreign affairs, direct experience abroad, human rights, and international law.”
What does a ‘Country of Particular Concern’ (CPC) designation mean?
- IRFA requires the USCIRF to annually identify countries that merit a CPC designation.
- As per IRFA, CPCs are countries whose governments either engage in or tolerate “particularly severe violations” of religious freedom, which are defined as “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of the internationally recognized right to freedom of religion”.
- The other designation, for less serious violations, is Special Watch List (SWL)
Which other countries have been designated as CPCs?
- For 2022, based on religious freedom conditions in 2021, a total of 15 countries have been recommended for the CPC designation.
- They include India, Pakistan, Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria and Vietnam. Countries recommended for a SWL designation include Algeria, Cuba, Nicaragua, Azerbaijan, Central African Republic, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Turkey, and Uzbekistan.
- This is the third year in a row that India has received a CPC recommendation.
Why does USCIRF want India to be designated as a CPC?
- The USCIRF, in its annual report, states that in 2021, “religious freedom conditions in India significantly worsened.”
- Noting that the “Indian government escalated its promotion and enforcement of policies —including those promoting a Hindu-nationalist agenda — that negatively affect Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dalits, and other religious minorities,” the report observed that “the government continued to systemise its ideological vision of a Hindu state at both the national and State levels through the use of both existing and new laws and structural changes hostile to the country’s religious minorities.”
- It highlighted the use of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) against those documenting religious persecution and violence, detailed the creation of “hurdles against the licensure and receipt of international funding” by religious and charitable NGOs, and observed that “numerous attacks were made on religious minorities, particularly Muslims and Christians, and their neighborhoods, businesses, homes, and houses of worship”. It also criticised the spate of fresh anti-conversion legislations, noting that “national, State and local governments demonised and attacked the conversion of Hindus to Christianity or Islam.”
- Taking into account all these aspects, it concluded that India met the criteria of “systematic, ongoing, egregious” violations of religious freedom and therefore deserved a CPC designation.
Are USCIRF recommendations binding on the U.S. government?
- No, they are not. The USCIRF typically recommends more countries for a CPC label than the State Department will designate. This happens because the USCIRF is concerned solely with the state of religious freedom when it makes a recommendation, but the State Department and its Office of International Freedom (IRF), although mandated by IRFA to factor in religious freedom in the framing of foreign policy, also takes into account other diplomatic, bilateral and strategic concerns before making a decision on a CPC designation.
3 . Dispute between Delhi Government and Centre
Context : The Supreme Court has started hearing the dispute between the Delhi government and the Centre over the control of administrative services in the national capital.
What are the legal issues before the SC?
There are two legal issues before the court.
- The first arises from a reference made by a two-judge Bench in February 2019, which, while deciding on the distribution of powers between the Delhi government and Centre, left the question of who will have control over the administrative services for consideration by a larger Bench.
- The Bench also has before it the Delhi government’s petition challenging the constitutional validity of the Government of National Capital Territory of Delhi (Amendment) Act 2021, which provided that the term “government” referred to in any law made by the Legislative Assembly of Delhi will imply the Lieutenant Governor (L-G).
- The current proceedings have their genesis in the Delhi High Court judgment of August 4, 2017, in which it held that for the purposes of administration of the NCT of Delhi, the L-G was not bound by the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers in every matter.
- On appeal, the SC on February 15, 2017 referred the matter to decide on the interpretation of Article 239AA of the Constitution.
What is Article 239AA of the Constitution?
- Article 239 AA was inserted in the Constitution by The Constitution (69th Amendment) Act, 1991 to give Special Status to Delhi following the recommendations of the S Balakrishnan Committee that was set up to look into demands for statehood for Delhi.
- It says that the NCT of Delhi will have an Administrator and a Legislative Assembly. Subject to the provisions of the Constitution, the Legislative Assembly “shall have power to make laws for the whole or any part of the NCT with respect to any of the matters in the State List or Concurrent List in so far as any such matter is applicable to Union territories” except on the subject of police, public order, and land
What happened to the 2017 reference in the SC & the subsequent rulings?
- A five-judge Constitution Bench confined itself to the interpretation of Article 239AA, and left individual issues to be decided by regular Benches.
- By a majority decision on July 4, 2018, the Bench upheld the respective powers of the state Assembly and Parliament. It said that while the Council of Ministers must communicate all decisions to the L-G, this does not mean that the L-G’s concurrence is required.
- In case of a difference of opinion, the L-G can refer it to the President of India for a decision. The L-G has no independent decision-making power, but has to either act on the ‘aid and advice’ of the Council of Ministers or is bound to implement the decision of the President on a reference that is made.
- This was followed by a ruling in 2019, where a two-judge Bench of Justices A K Sikri and Ashok Bhushan dealt with some individual issues arising from the power tussle, regarding the power of the Anti-Corruption Branch of the Delhi government to investigate corruption cases against central government officials and appoint commissions of inquiry. The two-judge Bench agreed that the Anti-Corruption Branch of the Delhi government cannot investigate corruption cases against central government officials, and that the power to appoint commissions under The Commission of Inquiry Act, 1952, would be vested with the Centre and not the Delhi government. The Bench upheld two notifications issued by the Centre on July 23, 2014, and May 21, 2015, which had the effect of excluding the jurisdiction of Delhi government’s Anti-Corruption Branch from probing offences committed by central government officials and limiting it to employees of the Delhi government.
And what did the two-judge Bench say on the control of administrative services?
- The two judges differed on who should have control over the administrative services.
- Justice Sikri was of the view that “transfers and postings of Secretaries, HODs and other officers in the scale of Joint Secretary to the Government of India and above can be done by the Lieutenant Governor and the file submitted to him directly” while “for other levels, including DANICS (Delhi, Andaman and Nicobar Islands Civil Service) officers, the files can be routed through the Chief Minister to L-G”.
- Justice Bhushan was of the opinion that power over services lay only with the Centre. On the issue of services, he said: “I do not entirely agree with the opinion of my esteemed brother, however, I am in agreement with his opinion that Entry 41 of List II of the Seventh Schedule of the Constitution is not available to the Delhi Legislative Assembly”, and hence, “there is no occasion to exercise any Executive power with regard to ‘Services’ by the GNCTD.”
What are the contentions of the Centre and Delhi government in the matter now?
- The Centre has contended that the two judges could not take a decision on the question of who controls services as the Constitution Bench in its July 2018 judgment had not interpreted the expression “insofar as any such matter as applicable to Union Territories” appearing in Article 239AA.
- Therefore, it must be referred to a five-judge Constitution Bench which will first settle the question of law, only after which the dispute over who has control over services can be looked into.
- The government of Delhi has opposed this.
4 . Civil Registration System (CRS)
Context : The Union government is planning to revamp the Civil Registration System (CRS) to enable the registration of birth and death in real-time with minimum human intervention and independent of location, according to the 2020-21 annual report of the Union Home Ministry.
- CRS may be defined as a unified process of continuous, permanent, compulsory and universal recording of the vital events(births, deaths, stillbirths) and characteristics thereof, as per legal requirements in the country.
- In 1886 a Central Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act was promulgated to provide for voluntary registration throughout British India.
- Currently, the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969 provides for the compulsory registration of births and deaths.
- The Registrar General, India (RGI) at the Central Government level coordinates and unifies the activities of registration throughout the country. However, implementation of the statute is vested with the State Governments.
- The registration of births and deaths in the country is done by the functionaries appointed by the State Governments.
- Directorate of Census Operations are the subordinate offices of the Office of the Registrar General, India and these offices are responsible for monitoring the working of the Act in their concerned State/UT.
- The Act mandates the use of uniform birth and death reporting forms and certificates throughout the country.
Issues with CRS System
- The CRS system is facing challenges in terms of timelines, efficiency and uniformity, leading to delayed and under-coverage of birth and death.
- To address the challenges faced by the system in providing prompt service delivery to the public, the Government of India has decided to introduce transformational changes in the Civil Registration System of the country through an IT [information technology]-enabled backbone leading to registration of birth and death in real-time basis with minimum human intervention.”
- It said the changes would be in terms of automating the process delivery points so that the service delivery was time-bound, uniform and free from discretion. “The changes would be sustainable, scalable and independent of the location.
- Last year, several instances of the online registration system being compromised were reported from States, with the login IDs and passwords of sub-registrars compromised and available in the open domain.
Amendments to Act
- The RGI that functions under the Home Ministry has proposed amendments to the Registration of Births and Deaths Act, 1969 that will enable it to “maintain the database of registered birth and deaths at the national level”.
- According to the proposed amendments, the database may be used to update the population register, electoral register, Aadhaar, ration card, passport and driving licence databases, The Hindu had reported.
- The registration of birth and death is mandatory under the Act and the Chief Registrar is mandated to publish a statistical report on the registered births and deaths during the year.
- The RGI is empowered under Section 3(3) of the 1969 Act to take steps to coordinate and unify the activities of the Chief Registrars of births and deaths of all States.
5 . Labour Force Participation Rate
Context : Data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE) shows that India’s labour force participation rate (LFPR) has fallen to just 40% from an already low 47% in 2016. This suggests not only that more than half of India’s population in the working-age group (15 years and older) is deciding to sit out of the job market, but also that this proportion of people is increasing.
What is LFPR?
- Before understanding LFPR, we need to define the labour force itself. According to the CMIE, the labour force consists of persons who are of age 15 years or older, and belong to either of the following two categories:
- are employed
- are unemployed and are willing to work and are actively looking for a job
- There is a crucial commonality between the two categories — they both have people “demanding” jobs. This demand is what LFPR refers to. While those in category 1 succeed in getting a job, those in category 2 fail to do so.
- Thus, the LFPR essentially is the percentage of the working-age (15 years or older) population that is asking for a job; it represents the “demand” for jobs in an economy. It includes those who are employed and those who are unemployed.
- The Unemployment Rate (UER), which is routinely quoted in the news, is nothing but the number of unemployed (category 2) as a proportion of the labour force.
What is the significance of LFPR in India?
- Typically, it is expected that the LFPR will remain largely stable. As such, any analysis of unemployment in an economy can be done just by looking at the UER.
- But, in India, the LFPR is not only lower than in the rest of the world but also falling. This, in turn, affects the UER because LFPR is the base (the denominator) on which UER is calculated.
- The world over, LFPR is around 60%. In India, it has been sliding over the last 10 years and has shrunk from 47% in 2016 to just 40% as of December 2021.
- This shrinkage implies that merely looking at UER will under-report the stress of unemployment in India.
How is it under-reported?
- Imagine that there are just 100 people in the working-age group but only 60 ask for jobs — that is, the LFPR is 60% — and of these 60 people, 6 did not get a job. This would imply a UER of 10%.
- Now imagine a scenario when the LFPR has fallen to 40% and, as such, only 40 people are demanding work. And of these 40, only 2 people fail to get a job. The UER would have fallen to 5% and it might appear that the economy is doing better on the jobs front but the truth is starkly different.
- The truth is that beyond the 2 who are unemployed, a total of 20 people have stopped demanding work. Typically, this happens when people in the working-age get disheartened from not finding work.
- Something similar has happened in India’s case (see Chart 1). The LFPR has sustained a secular decline. In fact, every time the LFPR falls, the UER also falls — because fewer people are now demanding jobs — giving the incorrect impression to policymakers that the situation has improved. The main reason for India’s LFPR being low is the abysmally low level of female LFPR.
So, what is the correct way to assess India’s unemployment stress?
- When LFPR is falling as steadily and as sharply as it has done in India’s case, it is better to track another variable: the Employment Rate (ER).
The ER refers to the total number of employed people as a percentage of the working-age population.
- By using the working-age population as the base and looking at the number of people with jobs (instead of those without them), the ER captures the fall in LFPR to better represent the stress in the labour market.
- If one looks at the ER data (Chart 1), it becomes clear that while India’s working-age population has been increasing each year, the percentage of people with jobs has been coming down sharply.
- Looking at the absolute numbers makes the stress even more clear. In December 2021, India had 107.9 crore people in the working age group and of these, only 40.4 crore had a job (an ER of 37.4%). Compare this with December 2016 when India had 95.9 crore in the working-age group and 41.2 crore with jobs (ER 43%). In five years, while the total working-age population has gone up by 12 crore, the number of people with jobs has gone down by 80 lakh.
Why is India’s LFPR so low?
- The main reason for India’s LFPR being low is the abysmally low level of female LFPR. According to CMIE data, as of December 2021, while the male LFPR was 67.4%, the female LFPR was as low as 9.4%.
- Less than one in 10 working-age women in India are even demanding work. Even if one sources data from the World Bank, India’s female labour force participation rate is around 25% when the global average is 47%.
Why do so few women demand work?
There are several reasons.
- One reason is essentially about the working conditions — such as law and order, efficient public transportation, violence against women, societal norms etc — being far from conducive for women to seek work.
- The other has to do with correctly measuring women’s contribution to the economy. Academics such as Ashwini Deshpande, professor of economics at Ashoka University, have pointed out methodological issues in formally capturing women’s contribution to the economy since a lot of women in India are exclusively involved within their own homes (caring for their family) of their own volition.
- Lastly, it is also a question of adequate job opportunities for women.
6 . Small Satellite Launch Vehicle
Context : Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) is hoping to have all three development flights planned for its ‘baby rocket’ — the Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) — in 2022 itself.“
- Physically, the SSLV is a three-stage rocket with a height of 34 metres and lift-off weight of 120 tonnes. By comparison, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) — ISRO’s ‘reliable workhorse’ — stands 44 metres tall, has four stages and has a lift-off mass of 320 tonnes for its ‘XL’ variant.
- All three stages of the SSLV will be solid propulsion stages.
- Being developed with private participation, the SSLV will be able to place 500 kg payloads in low-earth orbit.
- Designed as a ‘launch on demand’ and a cheaper alternative for placing small payloads in orbit, it would have multiple mounting options for nano, micro and small satellites
- The first development flight is expected to take place in June.
- The SSLV is the smallest vehicle at 110-ton mass at ISRO. It will take only 72 hours to integrate, unlike the 70 days taken now for a launch vehicle. Only six people will be required to do the job, instead of 60 people. The entire job will be done in a very short time and the cost will be only around Rs 30 crore. It will be an on-demand vehicle,
- One of the aims of the newly-created ISRO commercial arm, New Space India Limited (NSIL), is to use research and development carried out by ISRO over the years for commercial purposes through Indian industry partners. Manufacturing and production of Small Satellite Launch Vehicle (SSLV) and Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) through technology transfer,” is one of the mandates of the new firm.
7. Facts for Prelims
STOCKHOLM INTERNATIONAL PEACE RESEARCH INSTITUTE.
- SIPRI is an independent international institute dedicated to research into conflict, armaments, arms control and disarmament.
- Established in 1966, SIPRI provides data, analysis and recommendations, based on open sources, to policymakers, researchers, media and the interested public.
- Based in Stockholm, SIPRI is regularly ranked among the most respected think tanks worldwide.
- SIPRI’s vision is a world in which sources of insecurity are identified and understood, conflicts are prevented or resolved, and peace is sustained.
- According to new data on global military spending published by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) world military spending continued to grow in 2021, reaching a record $2.1 trillion despite the economic fallout of the pandemic,. The five largest spenders in 2021 were the U.S., China, India, the U.K. and Russia, together accounting for 62% of expenditure. The U.S. and China alone accounted for 52%.
Guillain Barre Syndrome
- It is a very rare autoimmune disorder. The immune system, in an attempt to kill the virus, accidentally starts attacking the peripheral nervous system.
- The peripheral nervous system is a network of nerves that lead from the brain and spinal cord to different parts of the body. Attacking them can affect limb functions.
- The syndrome’s first symptoms are a tingling or itching sensation in the skin, followed by muscle weakness, pain and numbness. The symptoms may emerge first in feet and hands. A person then starts experiencing reflex loss and paralysis, which may be temporary, but can last for 6-12 months or longer. With Covid-19 a year old, it is still difficult to assess the nature of permanency GBS in such cases may present.
- GBS is caused by bacteria or viral infection. In the past, patients of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome showed GBS symptoms, as did those infected with Zika, HIV, Herpes virus and Campylobacter jejuni.
Main Airframe Fatigue Test
- Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL) has commenced the Main Airframe Fatigue Test (MAFT) of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Mk1 airframe at the Ground Test Centre of the Aircraft Research and Design Centre (ARDC), Bengaluru,
- “These tests will be carried out over a period of eight to nine years. The successful completion of the MAFT will qualify the LCA [Air Force] Mk1 airframe for its full service life
- As per the military airworthiness requirements, the fatigue test had to demonstrate the capability of the airframe to withstand four times the service life, it noted. The airframe is the same for the LCA Mk1 in service and the more capable LCA-Mk1A, 83 of which the IAF has contracted for.