Current Affairs Analysis

14th July 2020 Current Affairs Analysis – IASToppers

Padmanabhaswamy Temple; Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act, 1950; Privy purses; 26th constitutional amendment act; Chabahar-Zahedan rail project; Bandar-e-Jask port; Shahid Kalantar & Shahid Beheshti; World Wildlife Crime Report 2020; Pangolins; United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime;Tangams; UNESCO World Atlas of Endangered Languages (2009); Endangered languages of Arunachal Pradesh; Tribes of Arunachala Pradesh; Motor Vehicle Act; Sections 395 and Section 397; Nadi VIgyan; Dekho Apna Desh; Nadi Parikshan; Indian Railways; Green Railways by 2030; India’s second Voluntary National Review; Keeda Jadi (Ophiocordyceps sinensis); Flood resistant paddy; Google for India Digitisation Fund; Mont Blanc glacier; etc.
By IASToppers
July 15, 2020

Contents

Polity & Governance

  • SC confirms Travancore royal family’s rights in running of Kerala temple
  • Road Building equipment do not come under Motor Vehicle Act
  • Sections 395 and Section 397

Economy

  • Indian Railways initiatives to transform into Green Railways by 2030

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

  • World Wildlife Crime Report 2020
  • India’s second Voluntary National Review
  • Keeda Jadi (Ophiocordyceps sinensis)

Bilateral & International Relations

  • Iran drops India from Chabahar rail project

Art & Culture

  • The language of the Tangams, with just 253 speakers

Science & Technology

  • Flood resistant paddy

Key Facts for Prelims

  • Nadi Vigyan
  • Google for India Digitisation Fund
  • Mont Blanc glacier

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Polity & Governance

SC confirms Travancore royal family’s rights in running of Kerala temple

The Supreme Court held that the erstwhile Travancore royal family is the shebait (manager) of the properties belonging to Sri Padmanabha, chief deity of Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple in Kerala.

About Padmanabhaswamy Temple

  • Located in Thiruvananthapuram, the state capital of Kerala.
  • Main deity: Lord Vishnu
    • The idol is in the “Anantha Shayana” posture, lying on the serpent Adi Shehsa.
  • Built from granite in sixth century.
  • The temple is built in as a fusion of the Chera style and the Dravidian style of architecture.
  • The Temple has been referred to in the (only recorded) Sangam period of literature.
  • The temple is one of the 108 principal Divya Desams (“Holy Abodes”) in Vaishnavism, and is glorified in the Divya Prabandha.
  • It shot to fame as one of world’s richest temples after discovery of wealth locked in ‘kallaras’ (vaults) for centuries.

Background

  • The temple was managed by the Ettara Yogam (Kings of Travancore and Council of Eight people).
  • In 1750, King Marthanda Varma, who rebuilt the temple in 1686 assumed the role of ‘Padmanabhadasa’. He declared that full control of temple management will be with royal family.
  • Before independence (1947): All the temples which were under the management of the erstwhile Princely States of Travancore and Cochin were under the control of the Travancore and Cochin Devaswom Boards.
  • After Independence (since 1949): As per the Instrument of Accession signed between the princely states and the Government of India, the administration of the Padmanabhaswamy Temple was given to the Ruler of Travancore under Travancore-Cochin Hindu Religious Institutions Act, 1950.
  • 1956:  State of Kerala was carved out but the temple continued to be managed by the erstwhile royals.

1991: Last ruler was Sree chithira thirunal balarama Varma. After he died in 1991, his brother, Utradam Thirunal Marthanda Varma, took over the temple management. This created a furore among devotees who moved the courts.

Reason:

  • Indian government abolished all the titles of Kings after independence. Hence, Utradam Varma is not a ruler and hence cannot claim the temple.
  • In 1971: privy purses to the former royals were abolished through a 26th constitutional amendment stripping their entitlements and privileges. The end of privy purse ended all the entitlements and special status of former rulers, thus turning them into ordinary citizens equal to other Indian.

What is the case about?

  • The central legal question was whether Utradam Thirunal Marthanda Varma could claim to be the “Ruler of Travancore” after the death of the ruler in 1991. Can Utradam Thirunal hold Shebait rights (representative entitled to deal with all its temporal affairs and to manage its property) of the temple?
  • The temple was always recognised as a public institution governed by a statute. Hence, it is not a private property of the royal family.
  • Argument of the royal family: Temple management would vest with them for perpetuity, as per custom.
    • Even though the last ruler Balarama Varma executed a detailed will saying his personal properties, he had not included the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple as his personal property.
  • 2007: Marthanda Varma claimed that the treasures of the temple were the family property of the royals. As a result, many devotees moved to the court.
  • 2011: Kerala court passed an order that a board be constituted by kerala government to manage the affairs of the temple, ruling against the royal family. However, SC immediately stayed the HC verdict.
    • SC order: To first prepare an inventory of items in the vaults and to place temple under the control of a committee appointed by Supreme Court.            
  • 2013: Utradam Thirunal died and his nephew succeeded him.
    • Marumakkathayam was a system of matrilineal inheritance prevalent in Travancore in which the king is succeeded by sisters’ children (nephews and nieces), as opposed to sons and daughters.  The joint family under the matrilineal system is known as Tharavad.

SC verdict

  • Shebait rights were given to the royal family.
  • It said: “As per customary law, Shebaitship was always in the royal family and the Ruler represented the unbroken line of shebaits.”

SC directed setting up of two committee

1) Administrative committee with the Thiruvananthapuram District Judge as its chairperson. The other members would be a nominee of the trustee (royal family), a nominee of the State and a member nominated by the Union Ministry of Culture.

2) Advisory committee: constituted to advise the administrative committee on policy matters. This would be chaired by a retired High Court judge. It will only constitute Hindu members.

Functions: The primary duties of the committees would be to preserve the treasures and properties. To decide whether to open Vault B, ensure that rituals are conducted as per custom, and ensure that income to the temple would be used to augment the facilities.

[Ref: The Hindu, Indian express, Hindustan Times]

Road Building equipment do not come under Motor Vehicle Act

Ministry of Road Transport and Highways has clarified that the heavy road making machinery is not a motor vehicle and is not covered under MV Act.

  • The Ministry has requested the States and UTs to not to insist upon registration and driving licence for these machines.

Definition of Motor Vehicle:

Section 2(28) of the Motor Vehicles Act, 1988 says a Motor Vehicle means any mechanically propelled vehicle adapted for use upon roads whether the power of propulsion is transmitted there to from an external or internal source and includes a chassis to which a body has not been attached and a trailed; but does not include a vehicle running upon fixed rails or a vehicle of a special type adapted for use only in a factory or in any other enclosed premises or a vehicle having less than four wheels fitted with engine capacity of not exceeding twenty-five cubic centimetres.

[Ref: PIB]

Sections 395 and Section 397

The Allahabad High Court has overturned a 37-year-old conviction under dacoity of three persons from Kanpur Dehat on the grounds that in the absence of involvement of five or more persons no conviction should be made out under clauses of dacoity.

  • The three had filed an appeal against their conviction under Sections 395 (dacoity) and 397 (dacoity with attempt to cause death or grievous hurt).

About the sections:

  • Section 395 states that, whoever commits dacoity shall be punished with imprisonment for life, or with rigorous imprisonment for a term which may extend to ten years and shall also be liable to fine.
  • Section 397 states that, if, at the time of committing robbery or dacoity, the offender uses any deadly weapon, or causes grievous hurt to any person, so attempts to cause death or grievous hurt to any person, the imprisonment with which such offender shall be punished shall not be less than seven years.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Economy

Indian Railways initiatives to transform into Green Railways by 2030

Initiatives are:

  • Focus on electrification of last mile connectivity & missing links. Indian Railways has completed electrification of more than 40,000 Route km.
  • Promote usage of solar energy. This is mainly done through rooftop solar panels and utilizing 51000 hectares of its land.
  • Commissioning of 103 MW wind-based power plants. Among them, 26 MW is in Rajasthan (Jaisalmer), 21 MW is in Tamil Nadu and 56.4 MW is in Maharashtra (Sangli). Indian Railways has also planned to set up 200 MW wind energy plants in next 2 years in Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Karnataka.
  • 100 per cent LED illumination of buildings and stations.
  • Green Certification from CIII to 7 Production Units (PUs), 39 Workshops, 6 Diesel sheds and 1 Stores depot.
  • 215 Stations have been certified with Environment Management System (EMS)/ISO 14001.
  • A total of 69,000 coaches have been fitted with more than 2,44,000 bio-toilets in Indian Railways.
  • Total 505 pairs of trains have been converted to Head on Generation (HOG), resulting in approx. 70 million litre diesel/ Rs 450 crore per annum potential of saving. 
[Ref: PIB]

Environment, Ecology & Disaster Management

World Wildlife Crime Report 2020

The second edition ‘World Wildlife Crime Report 2020’ was recently published by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

  • The first such report was published in 2016.

Key Highlights of World Wildlife Crime Report 2020

  • Nearly 6,000 species have been seized between 1999-2018. No single species is responsible for more than 5% of the seizure incidents.
  • Zoonotic diseases represent up to 75 % of all emerging infectious diseases.
    • Trafficking of wild species and subsequent illegal sale increased the transmission of zoonotic diseases from animals to humans.
  • Pangolins are the most trafficked wild mammals in the world, with the seizure of their scales increasing 10 times between 2014 and 2018.
    • The meat and scales of pangolins are used for medicinal purposes.
    • Their scales promote blood circulation and increase lactation in pregnant women.
    • China accounted for 99 % of the legal trade in pangolin scales.
    • Congo, Nigeria (primary point of export of pangolin shipments) and Uganda act as transit countries for pangolin and wildlife trafficking. Vietnam emerged as the primary destination.
  • No single country was identified as the source of more than 9 % of the total number of seized shipments of wildlife.
  • Report also analysed the markets for illicit rosewood, ivory, rhino horn, live reptiles, big cats and the European eel. Trends show demand for African ivory and rhino horn is in decline, indicating that the market for them is smaller than previously suggested.
  • A common theme in the illicit trade of ivory and rhino horn (and more generally with all illicit wildlife trade) is corruption in the form of bribes.
  • Meanwhile, demand for tropical hardwood timber has risen significantly over the past two decades.
  • Wildlife trade has also gone digital, with traffickers selling live reptiles and tiger bone products through online platforms and encrypted messaging apps.

Suggestions

  • There is need for stronger criminal justice systems and improved international cooperation and cross-border investigations, among other measures.

United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime:

  • The UNODC is a United Nations office that was established in 1997 as the Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention.
  • It is a member of the United Nations Development Group and was renamed the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in 2002.
  • It publishes the World Drug Report annually that presents a comprehensive assessment of the international drug problem.
  • Main issues that UNODC deals with: Alternative Development, anti-corruption, Criminal Justice, Prison Reform and Crime Prevention, Drug Prevention, Treatment and Care, HIV and AIDS, Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling, Money Laundering, Organized Crime, Piracy, Terrorism Prevention.
[Ref: Down To Earth]

India’s second Voluntary National Review

NITI Aayog presented India’s second Voluntary National Review (VNR) at the United Nations High-level Political Forum (HLPF) on Sustainable Development, 2020. The HLPF meets annually under the auspices of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the UN.

The HLPF is the international platform for follow-up and review of progress on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

  • The reviews are voluntary and state-led and are aimed at facilitating the sharing of experiences, including successes, challenges and lessons learned.
  • NITI Aayog has the mandate of overseeing the adoption and monitoring of SDGs at the national and sub-national level. NITI Aayog prepared and presented India’s first VNR in 2017.
  • The India VNR 2020 report was titled Decade of Action: Taking SDGs from Global to Local. The report is a comprehensive account of the adoption and implementation of the 2030 Agenda in India.

Key Features of the report:

  • Presents a review of progress on the 17 SDGs.
  • Discusses at length the policy and enabling environment
  • Talks about India’s approach to localising SDGs and strengthening means of implementation.
[Ref: PIB]

Keeda Jadi (Ophiocordyceps sinensis)

Ophiocordyceps sinensis is a fungus recently listed as vulnerable species under the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species.

  • The fungus, also known as Keeda Jadi in Uttarakhand because of its caterpillar-like appearance.
  • It is endemic to the Himalayan and Tibetan plateau and is found in China, Bhutan, Nepal and India. In India it is primarily found in Uttarakhand in the higher reaches of districts like Pithoragarh and Chamoli.
  • The fungus is known for its aphrodisiac and rejuvenation properties. It sells in international markets for upwards of Rs 20 lakh per kg.

Concerns:

  • Over harvesting has resulted in its spread declining by at least 30%.
  • Anthropogenic pressure due to camping by villagers.
  • Damage to alpine landscape.

Government Measures:

  • Government will set up dedicated two growth centres.
[Ref: Times of India]

Bilateral & International Relations

Iran drops India from Chabahar rail project

Four years after India and Iran signed an agreement to construct a rail line from Chabahar port to Zahedan, Iranian government has decided to proceed with the construction on its own, citing delays from the Indian side in funding.

  • Explanation of delay: The U.S. had provided a sanctions waiver for the Chabahar port and the rail line to Zahedan, but it has been difficult to find equipment suppliers due to worries they could be targeted by the U.S. Hence, there was a delay.

Chabahar-Zahedan rail project

  • In 2017, India announced to construct, Chabahar-Zahedan rail project, as part of a trilateral deal between India, Iran and Afghanistan.
  • It is a railway line linking Chabahar with Zahedan on the Iran-Afghanistan border, avoiding the volatile Helmand Province of Afghanistan. It will link Chabahar to the mineral-rich Hajigak pass of Afghanistan.
  • The rail project is part of the International North–South Transport Corridor.
  • IRCON (Indian Railway Construction Company Limited) had promised to provide all services, superstructure work and financing for the project ($1.6 billion).

China-Iran partnership

  • Meanwhile, complicating matters further, Iran and China are close to finalising a 25-year Strategic Partnership which will include Chinese involvement in Chabahar’s duty free zone, an oil refinery nearby, and possibly a larger role in Chabahar port as well.
  • Iran proposed a tie-up between the Chinese-run Pakistani port at Gwadar and Chabahar in 2019, and has offered interests to China in the Bandar-e-Jask port 350km away from Chabahar. Bandar-e-Jask lies to west of Chabahar & right before Straits of Hormuz. China would thus extends its control along the Pakistan-Iran coast.

Chabahar Port

The port of Chabahar is located on the Makran coast of Sistan and Baluchistan Province, next to the Gulf of Oman and at the mouth of Strait of Hormuz.

  • It is the only Iranian port with direct access to the Indian Ocean.
  • It consists of two separate ports named ‘Shahid Kalantari’ and ‘Shahid Beheshti’.
  • Being close to Afghanistan and the Central Asian countries of Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan etc., it has been termed the “Golden Gate” to these land-locked countries.
  • The Chabahar port was partially developed by India in the 1990s.

Background

Chabahar Port

  • In 2016, India and Iran signed a bilateral agreement in which India would develop one of the berths at Shahid Beheshti port, and reconstruct a container handling facility at the port.
  • The agreement gives India the right to develop two berths of Chabahar, allowing them to be operated for 10 years by India Ports Global— a joint venture between Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust and Kandla Port Trust, in partnership with Iran’s Aria Banader.

Why Chabahar Port is crucial for India?

  • The first and foremost significance of the Chabahar port is the fact that India can bypass Pakistan in transporting goods to Afghanistan.
  • It will provide India with a foothold at the mouth of thestrategic Straits of Hormuz, through which a third of all the world’s sea-borne oil passes. Even if Iran’s enemies were to shut down the Straits of Hormuz, Chabahar port, being 300 km away from strategic straits would be able to function, reducing Iran’s vulnerability to international pressure.
  • Chabahar port will boost India’s access to Iran, the key gateway to the International North-South Transport Corridor that has sea, rail and road routes between India, Iran, Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia, Central Asia, and Europe.
  • Chabahar port will be beneficial to India in countering Chinese presence in the Arabian Sea as Pakistan handed Gwadar port to China on a 40-year lease.  Gwadar port is only 72 km away from Chabahar by sea.
  • With Chabahar port being developed and operated by India, Iran also becomes a military ally to India. Chabahar could be used in case China stationed its ships in Gwadar port to reckon its upper hand in the Indian Ocean.
  • This trade corridor could expand India’s trade ties with the Central Asian countries, boosting import of iron ore, sugar and rice to India.
  • Chabahar port will ensure in the establishment of a politically sustainable connectivity between India and Afghanistan. This is will, in turn, lead to better economic ties between the two countries.
  • From a diplomatic perspective, Chabahar port could be used as a point from where humanitarian operations could be coordinated.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Art & Culture

The language of the Tangams, with just 253 speakers

Recently, Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister a book titled “Tangams: An Ethnolinguistic Study Of The Critically Endangered Group of Arunachal Pradesh”.

Who are the Tangams?

  • The Tangams are a little-known community within the larger Adi tribe of Arunachal Pradesh.
  • Earlier residing across 25 villages, Tangams are now concentrated in only one village (Kugging), with 253 reported speakers in Upper Siang district’s Paindem circle.
    • Kugging is surrounded by a number of villages inhabited by Adi subgroups such as Shimong, Minyongs, as well as the Buddhist tribal community of Khambas, among others.
  • They speak Tangam language which is an oral language that belongs to the Tani group, under the greater Tibeto-Burman language family.
    • As per the UNESCO World Atlas of Endangered Languages (2009), Tangam language is marked ‘critically endangered’. They rarely speak their own language now since their population is restricted to a single village.

Other Languages in Arunachal Pradesh

  • The languages of Arunachal Pradesh have been classified under the Sino-Tibetan language family, and more specifically under the Tibeto-Burman and Tai group of languages, such as Lolo-Burmish, Bodhic, Sal, Tani, Mishmi, Hruissh and Tai.
  • While the education system has introduced Devanagari, Assamese and Roman scripts for most tribal languages, new scripts such as Tani Lipi and Wancho Script have been developed by native scholars.

Endangered languages of Arunachal Pradesh  

  • According to the UNESCO Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger (2009) more than 26 languages of Arunachal Pradesh have been identified as endangered.
    • India has around 196 endangered languages, including about 80 in the Northeast, according to same UNESCO Atlas (2009).
  • As per official linguistic survey by the state government, which began only in 2018 and is still going on, the number of languages in Arunachala Pradesh is 32-34.

Reason for decline in use of native languages

  • The population of tangams is so low – 253 people.
    • Another critically endangered language is Meyor but they have population of 1,000 people and hence not endangered. Thus, smaller languages are more vulnerable, and extinction is directly proportional to population.
  • The diversity of languages has led various communities to depend on English, Assamese and Arunachalee Hindi.
  • Younger generation of these tribes especially in the urban areas have mostly discarded the use of their mother tongue.

Tribes of Arunachala Pradesh

  • Arunachal Pradesh is inhabited by the world’s largest variety of ethnic tribal groups and subgroups numbering over a hundred and each tribe speaking their own-language and dialect.

Broadly, there are three cultural groups;

  1. First being Monpas and Sherdukpen of Tawang and West Kameng districts who are followers of the tradition of Mahayana Buddhism.
  2. The second group comprising of Apatanis, Adis, Galos, Mishmis, Nyishis, Tagins, Akas etc worship the Sun and Moon God.
  3. Third group includes Noctes, Wanchos and Khampti follow basic Vaishnavism and Buddhism and are ruled by a hereditary chief.
  4. Additionally there are the Galo, Nyishi, Tagin, Apatani and Adi communities who are commonly known as Tani clans due to their connection with Abotani (abu/abo-father, tani-tribes) – from whom the mythical heritage of mankind’s origin is associated. According to the Tani clans, Abotani was the first to introduce the technique of rice cultivation.
[Ref: Indian Express]

Science & Technology

Flood resistant paddy

Farmers from a district in Assam are cultivating flood resistant varieties of paddy.

  • These varieties are called Ranjit Sub1, Swarna Sub1 and Bahadur Sub1.

Key Points:

  • The Swarna Sub1 was developed by Indian Council of Agricultural Research and the Manila-based International Rice Research Institute.
  • These varieties were introduced in Assam since 2009. But their adoption was low.

Features:

  • The rice varieties can withstand submergence up to 2 weeks.
  • High yield i.e. about 5 tonnes per hectare.
  • Has regeneration capability.
[Ref: The Hindu]

Prelims Key Facts

Nadi Parikshan

  • Why in news? Recently, the Ministry of Tourism presented a webinar on ‘NadiVigyan: A complete solution for spinal disorders’ under Dekho Apna Desh webinar series.
  • Nadi Parikshan (or pulse diagnosis) helps in determining the problems or disorders caused due to the imbalance of Vata, Pitta and Kapha. According to Ayurveda, Vata means (air+ether) Pitta means (Fire+ water) and Kapha means (Earth+ water).
  • The origin point of Nadi is called as Kandasthana which is the nabi (navel area) of the human body as navel is the central power of the body.
  • The body consists of 72,000 Nadis (or channels).
[Ref: PIB]

Google for India Digitisation Fund

  • Google will invest $10 billion in the India over the next five to seven years.
  • The investments will happen through a mix of equity investments, partnerships, operations, infrastructure and ecosystem investments.

It will focus on areas such as:

  • Enabling affordable access to the internet and to information for every Indian in their own language.
  • Building new products and services in segments like consumer tech, education, health and agriculture.
  • Empowering businesses especially small and medium businesses to transform digitally.
  • Leveraging technology and artificial intelligence for digital literacy, outbreak predictions, and support for rural economies.
[Ref: Indian Express]

Mont Blanc 

  • Recently, copies of Indian newspapers onboard an Air India jet that crashed into Mont Blanc in the 1960s have been revealed by melting ice on the mountain’s Bossons glacier.
  • Mont Blanc is the second-highest mountain in Europe after Mount Elbrus. It is the highest mountain in the Alps and Western Europe. It rises 4,808 m (15,774 ft) above sea level and is ranked 11th in the world in topographic prominence.
  • It lies along the French-Italian border and reaches into Switzerland.
  • The mountain stands in a range called the Graian Alps, between the regions of Aosta Valley, Italy, and Savoie and Haute-Savoie, France.
[Ref: India Today]
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