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6th October Current Affairs

Dispute over Senkaku Islands in Japan

(GS-II: Effect of policies and politics of developed and developing countries on India’s interests, Indian diaspora)

In News:

New Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said that he received a “strong” message from President Joe Biden about the United States’ commitment to defending the disputed East China Sea islets, known as the Senkaku Islands in Japan.

Background:

As per the U.S.-Japan security treaty, the U.S. has obligations to defend Japan, which cover the uninhabited island.

About Senkaku Islands:

The Senkaku Islands are located in the East China Sea between Japan, the People’s Republic of China, and the Republic of China (Taiwan). The archipelago contains five uninhabited islands and three barren rocks, ranging in size from 800 m2 to 4.32 km2.

What are the grounds for Japan’s territorial sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands?

The Senkaku Islands were not included in the territory which Japan renounced under Article 2 of the San Francisco Peace Treaty of 1951 that legally defined the territory of Japan after World War II.

Under Article 3 of the treaty, the islands were placed under the administration of the United States as part of the Nansei Shoto Islands. The Senkaku Islands are included in the areas whose administrative rights were reverted to Japan in accordance with the Agreement between Japan and the United States of America Concerning the Ryukyu Islands and the Daito Islands that entered into force in 1972.

What is China’s claim?

China says that the islands have been part of its territory since ancient times, serving as important fishing grounds administered by the province of Taiwan.

Taiwan was ceded to Japan in the Treaty of Shimonoseki in 1895, after the Sino-Japanese war.

When Taiwan was returned in the Treaty of San Francisco, China says the islands should have been returned too.

What next?

The Senkaku/Diaoyu issue highlights the more robust attitude China has been taking to its territorial claims in both the East China Sea, the South China Sea and also on the Indian side.

Other border disputes of China:

It has island and maritime border disputes with Taiwan, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea and its extension.

The disputes include islands, reefs, banks and other features in the South China Sea including Spratly Islands (with Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan), Paracel Islands (Vietnam), Scarborough Shoal (Philippines), and Gulf of Tonkin (Vietnam).

Gujarat HC order on Sabarmati river conservation

(GS-III: Conservation and pollution related issues)

In News:

Gujarat High Court had taken suo motu cognizance of the slow death of Sabarmati river due to effluent discharge. In this regard, it has delivered a judgement recently.

The High Court order:

Industrial units found to have discharged pollutants into the Sabarmati river in Gujarat will not be provided water and power.

They will also be penalised, named and shamed.

All such polluting units will also be banned from participating in any industrial fair, public-private partnership events, etc.

Water as a public trust:

In our Constitution, water resources are held in public trust. Therefore, the court decided to use the ‘Public Trust Doctrine’ to apply stringent provisions against permitting municipal bodies or industries from polluting rivers.

Challenges:

The Sabarmati, for 120 km of its 371 km course, is in its death throes. This is especially true for the stretch of the river along the Sabarmati riverfront in Ahmedabad.

The excessive presence of pollutants in the river and the lack of natural flow has done irreparable damage to the river.

Effluents and sewage from industrial units are continuously being discharged into the Sabarmati river.

Despite all this, industrial units have been provided legal permission to carry out these activities.

Need of the hour:

Rivers are our lifeline since we are completely dependent on them for our existence. The major reason behind this alarming situation is our utter ignorance and carefree attitude towards our environment and maintaining rivers and riversides.

So, it is high time that we take some stringent actions in this regard.

Each and every individual should understand that rivers belong to all of us.

It is a joint responsibility of each and every individual to keep them clean.

About Sabarmati:

The Sabarmati originates in the Dhebar lake situated in the southern part of the Aravalli range in the Udaipur district of Rajasthan.

It flows in a south-western direction, passing through Udaipur in Rajasthan and Sabarkantha, Mehsana, Gandhinagar, Ahmedabad and Anand districts of Gujarat.

After traveling about 371 km, it falls into the Gulf of Khambhat.

Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network and its report

(GS-III: Conservation and Pollution related issues)

In News:

Global Coral Reef Monitoring Network (GCRMN) has released a report on the status of coral reefs across the world.

Details:

The report, the first of its kind in 13 years, underlined the catastrophic consequences of global warming but said that some coral reefs can be saved by arresting greenhouse gases.

Highlights of the report:

In the last decade, the world lost about 14 per cent of its coral reefs.

Threats: Ocean-acidification, warmer sea temperatures and local stressors such as overfishing, pollution, unsustainable tourism and poor coastal management.

Impact of global warming: Coral reefs across the world are under relentless stress from warming caused by climate change. Coral bleaching events caused by rise in elevated sea surface temperatures (SST) were responsible for coral loss.

Loss of hard coral cover: There has been a steady decrease in hard coral cover in the last four decades since 1978 when the world lost nine per cent of its corals. The decrease is disconcerting because live hard coral cover is an indicator of coral reef health.

Algal bloom: Algal bloom on coral ridges are a sign of stress on the structures. Since 2010, the amount of algae on the world’s coral reefs has increased by about 20 per cent.

Why conserve corals?

Corals occupy less than one per cent of the ocean floor but over one billion people benefit directly from the reefs.

The value of goods and services provided by coral reefs is estimated to be $2.7 trillion per year. This includes $36 billion in coral reef tourism.

The net economic value of the world’s coral reefs could be nearly tens of billions of dollars per year.

Challenges ahead:

Persistent rise of land and sea temperatures is a threat to corals.

The survival of corals is likely to drop below 50 per cent if sea surface temperatures increase by one degree.

All of the world’s reefs will bleach by the end of the century unless the world acts together to reduce carbon emissions.

What is bleaching?

Basically bleaching is when the corals expel a certain algae known as zooxanthellae, which lives in the tissues of the coral in a symbiotic relationship.

About 90% of the energy of the coral is provided by the zooxanthellae which are endowed with chlorophyll and other pigments.

They are responsible for the yellow or reddish brown colours of the host coral. In addition the zooxanthellae can live as endosymbionts with jellyfish also.

When a coral bleaches, it does not die but comes pretty close to it. Some of the corals may survive the experience and recover once the sea surface temperature returns to normal levels.

PM CARES For Children

(GS-II: Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and bodies constituted for the protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections)

In News:

A total of 845 COVID-19 orphans have so far been identified and approved for receiving benefits under the PM CARES Fund.

About the scheme:

Launched in May 2021.

The scheme has been launched for support & empowerment of Covid affected children.

Eligibility: All children who have lost both parents or surviving parent or legal guardian/adoptive parents due to Covid 19 will be supported under the scheme.

Features of the scheme:

Fixed Deposit in the name of the child: A corpus of Rs 10 lakh for each child when he or she reaches 18 years of age.

School Education: For children under 10 years: Admission will be given in the nearest Kendriya Vidyalaya or in a private school as a day scholar.

School Education: for children between 11-18 years: The child will be given admission in any Central Government residential school such as Sainik School, Navodaya Vidyalaya etc.

Support for Higher Education: The child will be assisted in obtaining an education loan for Professional courses / Higher Education in India as per the existing Education Loan norms.

Health Insurance: All children will be enrolled as a beneficiary under Ayushman Bharat Scheme (PM-JAY) with a health insurance cover of Rs 5 lakhs.

Need for these measures:

As India battles a raging second wave, cases of children losing their parents to Covid-19 are also mounting.

Also the apprehension of child trafficking in the garb of adoption has increased.

Child Marriages have also increased in the Covid-19 induced lockdown.

Changes to Forest Conservation Act

(GS-III: Conservation related issues)

In News:

The Union Government has proposed certain amendments to the existing Forest Conservation Act (FCA).

Proposed changes:

Absolve agencies involved in national security projects and border infrastructure projects from obtaining prior forest clearance from the Centre. Such a permission is necessary under the Forest Conservation Act (FCA).

Exempt land acquired before 1980 — before the FCA came into effect — by public sector bodies such as the Railways.

Facilitating private plantations for harvesting and exploration or extraction of oil and natural gas deep beneath forest land by drilling holes from outside the forest areas.

Building in forests: To ease the grievances of the individuals whose land fall in state specific private forests act or within the purview of dictionary meaning of forest, the ministry has proposed to allow them the right to construct structures for bonafide purposes including forest protection measures and residential units up to an area of 250 sq mtr as one time relaxation.

Punishments: Make offences under the modified Act punishable with simple imprisonment for a period which may extend to one year and make it cognisable and non-bailable.

It also has provisions for penal compensation to make good for the damage already done.

What next?

Please note that these are just proposals. The document is open to public discussion for 15 days after which it could be readied for Cabinet and parliamentary approval.

Why were these amendments necessary?

The essential tension in the FCA is that the state is committed to a principle of increasing forest cover, and this makes it harder to access land for infrastructure projects by States and private entities.

Several Ministries have expressed resentment on how the Act was being interpreted over the right of way of railways, highways.

As of today, a landholding agency (Rail, NHAI, PWD, etc.) is required to take approval under the Act and pay stipulated compensatory levies such as Net Present Value (NPV), Compensatory Afforestation (CA), for use of such land which was originally been acquired for non-forest purposes.

With more land coming under the definition of “forest”, it’s becoming harder for State Governments or private industry to use land that falls under the definition of “forest” for non-forestry purposes.

Through the years, this has given rise to multiple instances of litigation, as well questions on the legal definition of “forest”.

States have been told to provide a definition of what constitutes a forest, but several haven’t given them because this has political consequences. All of this has led to conflicting interpretations of the FCA through the years.

The proposed amendment is part of a larger rationalising of existing forest laws.

When was the FCA enacted?

The FCA first came in 1980 and was amended in 1988.

While States had already notified forest land, the FCA made it necessary to get the Centre’s permission for using such forest land for “non forestry purposes” and the creation of an advisory committee to recommend such re-classification.

The 1996 Supreme Court judgment (in TN Godavarman Thirumulpad versus Union of India and Others case) paved the way for the calculating:

The net present value, or the economic value of the portion of forest being razed for development work that had to be paid by project proponents.

The creation of a compensatory afforestation fund.

Providing non-forestry land in lieu of the diverted forest.

Definition of “Forest”:

Before the 1996 Supreme Court judgement in TN Godavarman Thirumulpad versus Union of India and Others, forest land was only that as was defined by the 1927 Forest Act. But the court included all areas which are recorded as ‘forest’ in any government record, irrespective of ownership, recognition and classification.