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17th February Current Affairs

North Atlantic Treaty Organization

(GS-II: Important International institutions, agencies and fora, their structure, mandate)

In News:

Russia has said it is pulling out its forces surrounding Ukraine. But, NATO and the U.S. have said that they are yet to be convinced the pullout was real.

What’s the issue?

Fears have been mounting of a major escalation of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where government forces have battled separatists in the mainly Russian-speaking Donbas region since 2014. Crimean peninsula was annexed by Moscow in 2014.

Now, Russia has stationed its military across the border.

But, why is Russia worried about NATO?

Russia has demanded that NATO guarantees Ukraine will never join the alliance.

Russia believes that NATO is “encircling” Russia and posing a threat.

It is also said that NATO missile defence threatens Russian security.

Above all, NATO is believed to be a U.S. geopolitical project and has always tried to isolate or marginalise Russia.

About North Atlantic Treaty Organization:

  • It is an intergovernmental military alliance.
  • Established by Washington treaty.
  • Treaty that was signed on 4 April 1949.
  • Headquarters — Brussels, Belgium.
  • Headquarters of Allied Command Operations — Mons, Belgium.


It constitutes a system of collective defence whereby its independent member states agree to mutual defence in response to an attack by any external party.


Since its founding, the admission of new member states has increased the alliance from the original 12 countries to 30. The most recent member state to be added to NATO was North Macedonia on 27 March 2020.

NATO membership is open to “any other European state in a position to further the principles of this Treaty and to contribute to the security of the North Atlantic area.”


Political – NATO promotes democratic values and enables members to consult and cooperate on defence and security-related issues to solve problems, build trust and, in the long run, prevent conflict.

Military – NATO is committed to the peaceful resolution of disputes. If diplomatic efforts fail, it has the military power to undertake crisis-management operations. These are carried out under the collective defence clause of NATO’s founding treaty – Article 5 of the Washington Treaty or under a United Nations mandate, alone or in cooperation with other countries and international organisations.

World Sustainable Development Summit

(GS-III: Conservation, environmental pollution and degradation, environmental impact assessment)

In News:

21st edition of the event was inaugurated recently. It is being held in virtual format.

Theme: Towards a Resilient Planet: Ensuring a Sustainable and Equitable Future.

About the World Sustainable Development Summit:

It is the annual flagship event of The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI).

It is the sole Summit on global issues taking place in the developing world.

It provides a platform for global leaders and practitioners to discuss and deliberate over climatic issues of universal importance.

It strives to provide long-term solutions for the benefit of the global community by assembling the world’s most enlightened leaders and thinkers on a single platform.

It is continuing the legacy of Delhi Sustainable Development Summit (DSDS) which was initiated in 2001 with the aim of making ‘sustainable development’ a globally shared goal.

What is sustainable development?

‘Development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’.

This most widely accepted definition of Sustainable Development was given by the Brundtland Commission in its report Our Common Future (1987).

Sustainable development (SD) calls for concerted efforts towards building an inclusive, sustainable and resilient future for people and planet.

Three core elements of sustainable development are:

Economic growth, social inclusion and environmental protection. It is crucial to harmonize them.

The Energy and Resources Institute – TERI:

It is a leading think tank dedicated to conducting research for sustainable development of India and the Global South.

TERI was established in 1974 as an information centre on energy issues. However, over the following decades, it made a mark as a research institute, whose policy and technology solutions transformed people’s lives and the environment.



Union Cabinet has approved the funding and implementation of Ken-Betwa inter-linking of rivers project. This project which involves transfer of water from the Ken to the Betwa River will be of immense benefit to the water starved Bundelkhand region, spread across the states of MP and UP. It will provide water for irrigation of 10.62 lakh ha annually, drinking water supply to a population of about 62 lakhs and also generate 103 MW of hydropower and 27 MW solar power. The interlinking of rivers (ILR) programme is a major endeavour to create additional storage facilities and transfer water from water-surplus regions to more drought-prone areas.

Why this is a good idea?

India receives most of its rain during monsoon season from June to September, most of it falls in northern and eastern part of India, the amount of rainfall in southern and western part are comparatively low. It will be these places which will have shortage of water. Interlinking of rivers will help these areas to have water throughout the year.

This will cut farmers dependence on monsoon rains by bringing millions of hectares of cultivatable land under irrigation.

Crop productivity would increase and so would revenues for the State.

Even one bad monsoon has a direct and debilitating economic impact.

The river linking project will ease the water shortages in western and southern India while mitigating the impacts of recurrent floods in eastern India.

The Ganga Basin, Brahmaputra basin sees floods almost every year. In order to avoid this, the water from these areas has to be diverted to other areas where there is scarcity of water. This can be achieved by linking the rivers. There is a two way advantage with this – floods will be controlled and scarcity of water will be reduced.

Simultaneous floods and droughts continue to wreak havoc, destroying the lives and livelihoods of millions.

India needs clean energy to fuel its development processes, and river water can be leveraged for this.

Fulfilling water needs impact socio-economic life of people which will help end poverty.

Need for interlinking of rivers to prevent inter-state water disputes.

Potential benefits to transportation through navigation, as well as broadening income sources in rural areas through fishing.

Critics argue that:

The idea that river linking would allow us to cope with flood in the north east and shortage of water in the Deccan is the positive aspect as pointed earlier but misleading one too. This floods come at the time when most parts of the country run short of water, we need to hold the water somewhere to use it in dry season but the amount of flowing in the short period of time in Brahmaputra and Ganga is so huge to store and use it later.

Interlinking of rivers is a very expensive proposal. The amount required for these projects is so huge that government will have to take loans from the foreign sources which would increase the burden on the government and country will fall in a debt trap.

The river interlinking project will adversely affect land, forests, biodiversity, rivers and the livelihood of millions of people.

The Ken-Betwa link threatens about 200 sq. km of the Panna tiger reserve.

Interlinking of rivers will lead to destruction of forests, wetlands and local water bodies, which are major groundwater recharge mechanisms.

Less than positive experience that other countries have, like diversion of Amu Darya and the Syr Darya or the Australia’s experiments in its Murray Darling basin.

It causes massive displacement of people. Huge burden on the government to deal with the issue of rehabilitation of displaced people.

Due to interlinking of rivers, there will be decrease in the amount of fresh water entering seas and this will cause a serious threat to the marine life.

The Shah committee pointed out that the linking of rivers will affect natural supply of nutrients for agricultural lands through curtailing flooding of downstream areas.


India has 18 percent of the world’s population but only 4 percent of the usable water resources.

Variability in rainfall is high which is the main source in the country, flood and drought simultaneously within the states of Bihar and Maharashtra.

Irrigation potential from interlinking rivers will have limited impact. The net national irrigated area from big dams has decreased and India’s irrigated area has gone up primarily due to groundwater.

We don’t have River basin plan yet in place.

Large hydropower projects are no longer a viable option in India.

Storing large quantities of waters. Most of the sites suitable for the big reservoirs are in Nepal, Bhutan and in the North-East—who are in opposition to big storage reservoirs.

Water has now become a political issue.

There are political challenges as well. Water transfer and water sharing are sensitive subjects.

If the glaciers don’t sustain their glacier mass due to climate change, the interlinking project will have limited benefit.

Usually rivers change their course and direction in about 100 years and if this happens after interlinking, then the project will not be feasible for a longer run.

Way Forward:

To look at water as a strategic resource for development.

Environment is one issue where anyone of us should be concerned about.

Best practices done by China and neighboring countries needs to be looked upon.

The biggest, cheapest, most benign, possibly fastest and most decentralized storage option for India is the groundwater

Invest in water conservation, more efficient irrigation and better farm practices.

Recycling of water for internal usage as that of Israel.

We need a mandatory enforceable river policy aimed at treating rivers as national treasure.

Accumulation of silt in huge quantities, particularly the Ganga and its tributaries. These rivers need to be desilted.

River linking in the south and other parts which was undertaken in the past has been going well so such model needs to be taken forward.

Planting trees on the river banks is one way of bringing life back to the rivers.

Forest catchments will need to be restored, wastewater from industries and towns will need to be treated, sand mining need to be stopped.

Need to build the responsibility, capability and accountability in our water management institutions to revive our rivers.

The judicious use of canal water, growing crops that are appropriate to a region, encouraging drip irrigation and reviving traditional systems such as tanks.


The river linking project is a great challenge and an opportunity to address the water issues arising out of climate change. The long-term solution to water scarcity lies in making the IRL project work by building a network of dams and canals across the length and breadth of the country. However, interlinking has to take place after a detailed study so that does not cause any problem to the environment or aquatic life.

Caste census

(GS-II: Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation)

In News:

Last month, the Supreme Court upheld the 27% quota for Other Backward Classes (OBC) in the All-India Quota seats for the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test and reiterated that reservations for backward classes were not an exception but an extension of the principle of equality under Article 15(1) of the Constitution.

This is seen as a positive discrimination in the Indian Context.

What’s the issue now?

Despite the underlying good intentions, positive discrimination has been a controversial topic. Many oppose affirmative actions like reservation; they believe that such provisions only perpetuate caste differences and they call for a “casteless society”.

But, as Justice D.Y. Chandrachud pointed out, “castelessness” is a privilege that only the upper caste can afford because their caste privilege has already translated into social, political and economic capital.

On the other hand, individuals who belong to the lower castes must retain their caste identity in order to claim the benefits of measures such as reservation, which recognise historic harm.

Need of the hour:

The faith of our citizens cannot be restored until credible exercises of data collection are undertaken regarding caste.

Even though data concerning the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes have been included in the Census, there is no similar data on OBCs.

The Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC) conducted in 2011 has been called “faulty” and “unreliable”.

Even the Mandal Commission’s recommendations were criticised as being based merely on the “personal knowledge” of the members of the commission and sample surveys.

Need for a caste- based census?

The Union government had told the Supreme Court that the caste-based data enumerated in the Socio-Economic Caste Census (SECC) of 2011 was “unusable”, but in 2016, the Registrar-General and Census Commissioner of India had informed the Standing Committee on Rural Development that 98.87% of the data on individual caste and religion was “error free”.

Why is the data “unusable” according to the government?

The government had said that the total number of castes surveyed in 1931 was 4,147, while the SECC figures show that there are more than 46 lakh different castes. Assuming that some castes may bifurcate into sub-castes, the total number can not be exponentially high to this extent.

The entire exercise was corrupted because the enumerators had used different spellings for the same castes. In many cases the respondents, the government said, had refused to divulge their castes.

Supreme Court observations:

In the Indra Sawhney case, the Supreme Court held that the States must conclude the “backwardness” of a particular class of people only after proper assessment and objective evaluation.

It held that such a conclusion must be subject to periodic review by a permanent body of experts.

How have caste details been collected so far?

While SC/ST details are collected as part of the census, details of other castes are not collected by the enumerators. The main method is by self-declaration to the enumerator.

So far, backward classes commissions in various States have been conducting their own counts to ascertain the population of backward castes.

What kind of caste data is published in the Census?

Every Census in independent India from 1951 to 2011 has published data on Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, but not on other castes. Before that, every Census until 1931 had data on caste.

What is SECC 2011?

The Socio-Economic Caste Census of 2011 was a major exercise to obtain data about the socio-economic status of various communities.

It had two components: a survey of the rural and urban households and ranking of these households based on pre-set parameters, and a caste census.

However, only the details of the economic conditions of the people in rural and urban households were released. The caste data has not been released till now.

Difference between Census & SECC:

The Census provides a portrait of the Indian population, while the SECC is a tool to identify beneficiaries of state support.

Since the Census falls under the Census Act of 1948, all data are considered confidential, whereas all the personal information given in the SECC is open for use by Government departments to grant and/or restrict benefits to households.

Pros of caste census:

The precise number of the population of each caste would help tailor the reservation policy to ensure equitable representation of all of them.

Concerns associated:

There is a possibility that it will lead to heartburn among some sections and spawn demands for larger or separate quotas.

It has been alleged that the mere act of labelling persons as belonging to a caste tends to perpetuate the system.