1. In rare gesture, Iran shuts morality police
The move comes after over two months of protests over the death in custody of a young woman arrested in Tehran for not wearing the hijab
Iran has scrapped its morality police after more than two months of protests triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini following her arrest for allegedly violating the country’s strict dress code for women, local media said on Sunday.
Women-led protests, labelled “riots” by the authorities, have swept Iran since the 22-year-old Iranian of Kurdish origin died on September 16, three days after her arrest by the morality police in Tehran.
Demonstrators have burned their mandatory hijab head coverings and shouted anti-government slogans, and a growing number of women have failed to wear the hijab, particularly in several parts of Tehran. “Morality police have nothing to do with the judiciary and have been abolished,” Attorney-General Mohammad Jafar Montazeri was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.
The announcement of the units’ abolition came a day after Mr. Montazeri said “both parliament and the judiciary are working” on the issue of whether the law requiring women to cover their heads needs to be changed.
2. Kannada groups ask Bommai to stall visit of Maharashtra Ministers
Ministers will visit Belagavi tomorrow to meet leaders of the Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti which has been demanding merger of Marathi-speaking areas with the neighbouring State; Karnataka government has opposed the meeting
Kannada organisations have asked Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai to handle the issue of Maharashtra Ministers planning a visit to Belagavi on December 6 politically and not to address it as an administrative issue.
Ashok Chandaragi, convener of the central committee of Kannada organisations in Belagavi district, urged Mr. Bommai to request the BJP high command to direct the Maharashtra government not to send the Ministers to Belagavi. “The BJP is in power at the Centre and in the two States. It should not be difficult for its leadership to resolve such differences among leaders in an amicable manner,” he said.
Chandrakant Patil, Maharashtra Minister and member of the high-powered committee on the boundary dispute, is set to visit Belagavi on Tuesday. He will be accompanied by his committee colleagues, Minister Shambhuraj Desai and MP Dhairyashil Mane.
They plan to meet Maharashtra Ekikaran Samiti leaders in Belagavi, who have been demanding the merger of the city and other Marathi-speaking areas with Maharashtra. Karnataka has already raised objections to the visit, saying such a visit at this juncture when the dispute is before the Supreme Court was not appropriate.
Mr. Chandaragi said if Karnataka’s objections were defied and the Ministers end up in Belagavi, Mr. Bommai should send a delegation of Cabinet Ministers from Karnataka to visit all the Kannada-speaking areas in Maharashtra such as Solapur, Jat, Nanded, and Sangli-Miraj. He said he would write to the Chief Minister in this regard.
Meanwhile, Karnataka Rakshana Vedike convener Deepak Gudaganatti said that if the leaders were allowed to hold a meeting with the MES, he and his supporters would storm into the meeting.
3. Editorial-1: Poor soil management will erode food security
Healthy soils are essential for our survival. They support healthy plant growth to enhance both our nutrition and water percolation to maintain groundwater levels. Soils help to regulate the planet’s climate by storing carbon and are the second largest carbon sink after the oceans. They help maintain a landscape that is more resilient to the impacts of droughts and floods. As soil is the basis of food systems, it is no surprise that soil health is critical for healthy food production.
World Soil Day (WSD) 2022, annually observed on December 5, aligns with this. WSD 2022, with its guiding theme, ‘Soils: Where food begins’, is a means to raise awareness on the importance of maintaining healthy soils, ecosystems and human well-being by addressing the growing challenges in soil management, encouraging societies to improve soil health, and advocating the sustainable management of soil.
Degradation and its consequences
Today, nutrient loss and pollution significantly threaten soils, and thereby undermine nutrition and food security globally. The main drivers contributing to soil degradation are industrial activities, mining, waste treatment, agriculture, fossil fuel extraction and processing and transport emissions. The reasons behind soil nutrient loss range from soil erosion, runoff, leaching and the burning of crop residues. Soil degradation in some form or another affects around 29% of India’s total land area. This in turn threatens agricultural productivity, in-situ biodiversity conservation, water quality and the socio-economic well-being of land dependent communities.
Nearly 3.7 million hectares suffer from nutrient loss in soil (depletion of soil organic matter, or SOM). Further, excessive use of fertilizers and pesticides, and irrigation with contaminated wastewater are also polluting soils. Impacts of soil degradation are far reaching and can have irreparable consequences on human and ecosystem health.
India’s conservation strategy
The Government of India is implementing a five-pronged strategy for soil conservation. This includes making soil chemical-free, saving soil biodiversity, enhancing SOM, maintaining soil moisture, mitigating soil degradation and preventing soil erosion. Earlier, farmers lacked information relating to soil type, soil deficiency and soil moisture content. To address these issues, the Government of India launched the Soil Health Card (SHC) scheme in 2015. The SHC is used to assess the current status of soil health, and when used over time, to determine changes in soil health. The SHC displays soil health indicators and associated descriptive terms, which guide farmers to make necessary soil amendments.
Other pertinent initiatives include the Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana, to prevent soil erosion, regeneration of natural vegetation, rainwater harvesting and recharging of the groundwater table.
In addition, the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture (NMSA) has schemes promoting traditional indigenous practices such as organic farming and natural farming, thereby reducing dependency on chemicals and other agri-inputs, and decreasing the monetary burden on smallholder farmers.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) undertakes multiple activities to support the Government of India’s efforts in soil conservation towards fostering sustainable agrifood systems. The FAO is collaborating with the National Rainfed Area Authority and the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare (MoA&FW) to develop forecasting tools using data analytics that will aid vulnerable farmers in making informed decisions on crop choices, particularly in rainfed areas.
Working with target States
The FAO, in association with the Ministry of Rural Development, supports the Deen Dayal Antyodaya Yojana-National Rural Livelihoods Mission’s (DAY-NRLM) Community Resource Persons to increase their capacities towards supporting on-farm livelihoods for the adoption of sustainable and resilient practices, organic certification and agri-nutri-gardens. The FAO works in eight target States, namely, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Haryana and Punjab, for boosting crop diversification and landscape-level planning. In Andhra Pradesh, the FAO is partnering with the State government and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) to support farmers in sustainable transitions to agro-ecological approaches and organic farming.
There is a need to strengthen communication channels between academia, policymakers and society for the identification, management and restoration of degraded soils, as well as in the adoption of anticipatory measures. These will facilitate the dissemination of timely and evidence-based information to all relevant stakeholders. Greater cooperation and partnerships are central to ensure the availability of knowledge, sharing of successful practices, and universal access to clean and sustainable technologies, leaving no one behind. As consumers and citizens, we can contribute by planting trees to protect topsoil, developing and maintaining home/kitchen gardens, and consuming foods that are mainly locally sourced and seasonal.
4. China’s moves in the Indian Ocean
How is the China-Indian Ocean Region Forum different from the Indian Ocean Rim Association? Did India attend the event? Why is China deepening its role in the Indian Ocean Region? Did Australia and Maldives participate in the forum?
On November 21, China’s top development aid agency convened the first “China-Indian Ocean Region Forum” in the southwestern Chinese city of Kunming. The meet organised by the China International Development Cooperation Agency (CIDCA) is the latest Chinese initiative focusing on the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), underlining Beijing’s growing strategic interests in a region where its economic footprint has been deepening.
What is the China Indian Ocean Region forum about?
The CIDCA, which is China’s new development aid agency, currently headed by former Vice Foreign Minister Luo Zhaohui, said in a statement the forum was “the first high-level official development cooperation forum jointly held by China and countries in the Indian Ocean Region” and “over 100 participants, including senior officials from 19 countries bordering the Indian Ocean” attended. The forum issued a “Joint Press Statement” that noted China “proposed to establish a marine disaster prevention and mitigation cooperation mechanism between China and countries in the Indian Ocean region” and “all parties agreed” to “strengthen policy coordination, deepen development cooperation, increase resilience to shocks and disasters, and enhance relevant countries’ capacity to obtain economic benefits through use of marine resources such as fisheries, renewable energy, tourism, and shipping in a sustainable way.”
Which countries have backed the forum?
The organisers have said the forum was attended by “high-level representatives” and “senior officials” from 19 countries: Indonesia, Pakistan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives, Nepal, Afghanistan, Iran, Oman, South Africa, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania, Seychelles, Madagascar, Mauritius, Djibouti, and Australia.
But at least two of those countries, Australia and Maldives, subsequently released statements rebutting the claim, emphasising that they did not participate officially. Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and former Maldives President Mohammed Waheed Hassan were reported to have virtually joined the meeting, and both were attending in their individual capacities. The Maldives Foreign Ministry said that “there was no official representation”, stressing that “participation by individuals” did not constitute official representation. Australia’s High Commissioner in Delhi, Barry O’Farrell said in a post on Twitter that “no Australian Government official attended the Kunming China-Indian Ocean Forum on Development Cooperation.” He noted that Assistant Foreign Minister Tim Watts had attended another forum — the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA) council meet — adding pointedly that this was “the only ministerial-level forum for Indian Ocean.”
Where does India stand?
Xu Wei, spokesperson for CIDCA, said India as “a major country in the Indian Ocean region, was invited to this forum” and added that China “looks forward to meeting India at the next forum”. That prospect appears unlikely. New Delhi has viewed China’s recent moves in the region warily, including the recent visit of a Chinese military tracking vessel, the Yuan Wang 5, to Sri Lanka. Moreover, India sees the IORA as an already established platform for the region, which has 23 members, including Australia and Maldives with 10 dialogue partners which include China, Japan, Russia, the U.K. and the U.S.
What are China’s plans for the IOR?
The forum has underlined China’s stepped-up interest in the IOR, where it is already a major trading partner for most countries and where lie sea routes vital to China’s economic interests. The CIDCA forum is the latest initiative to reflect Beijing’s view that it has a clear stake in the region, and that more such initiatives are likely. Earlier this year, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, during a visit to Sri Lanka, proposed creating a forum “on the development of Indian Ocean island countries” to “build consensus and synergy, and promote common development”. He called on Sri Lanka to “play an important role” in this initiative. The stepped-up regional diplomacy comes while China is establishing a more frequent military presence in the waters of the IOR. Beijing’s first ever overseas military facility was set up in Djibouti near the Horn of Africa. Chinese military ships, tracking vessels, and submarines have been visiting ports in the region with greater frequency. Chinese military planners have previously said the PLA Navy, which earlier this year launched its third aircraft carrier , has a long-term plan to deploy six aircraft carriers to secure China’s maritime interests, and that two of them will be based in the Indian Ocean Region.
5. Why has the Reserve Bank of India introduced an e-rupee?
What are central bank digital currencies? Are central banks introducing digital currencies to counter the influence of cryptocurrencies? Will such a move increase the risk of bank runs?
The Reserve Bank of India this week launched the digital rupee on a pilot basis. The digital currency will be offered by a select group of public and private banks in a few major cities initially, which can be used for both person-to-person and person-to-merchant transactions.
What is the digital rupee?
The digital rupee, or the e-rupee, is a central bank digital currency issued by the RBI. It is similar to the physical cash that you hold in your wallet except that the e-rupee is held electronically in a digital wallet overseen by the RBI. The digital rupee is recognised as legal tender by the RBI, and thus has to be accepted by everyone in the country as a medium of exchange. It is, however, different from deposits that you hold in a bank. Unlike deposits which are paid interest, the digital rupees in your wallet are not paid any interest by the central bank. Deposits held in banks can be converted into digital rupees and vice-versa.
Is there a need for the digital rupee?
The RBI believes that the digital rupee will make the rupee more attractive as a currency to users when compared to cryptocurrencies. Cryptocurrencies have been viewed by many investors as alternatives to fiat currencies which progressively lose value over time due to debasement by central banks. Since such a trend could threaten their sovereignty, central banks have been trying to come up with their own digital currencies. The RBI also believes that the digital rupee will be easier and more economical to produce when compared to physical cash notes. More importantly, transactions carried out using digital rupees, in contrast to physical transactions, are more easily traceable by authorities.
What are the risks?
The introduction of central bank digital currencies internationally has worried many who believe that it could disrupt the banking system. When interest rates offered by banks are low, people may be more prone to converting their bank deposits into digital currencies since they would not lose out much in the way of interest income by making the shift. Such an event could cause the cash holdings of banks to drop and hinder banks’ capacity to create loans. It should be noted that the ability of banks to create loans is influenced by the amount of cash they hold in their vaults. This is because the cash position of a bank determines its ability to expand its loan book while keeping the risk of a bank run under control. The digital rupee could also play a crucial role in India’s transition towards a cashless society. A rise in the use of the digital rupee could eventually free banks from having to maintain sufficient cash deposits before they expand their loan books. This could happen if digital rupee deposits turn out to be considered equivalent to other forms of virtual money such as deposits created initially as loans by banks. In such case, banks will be freed from the risk of bank runs which have traditionally served as a check on the unrestrained expansion of loan books.
What do the critics say?
Critics are not so enthused by the idea of a digital rupee. They point to the power that digital currencies give central banks to supervise economic activity, and believe that this could act as a deterrent to economic growth if legitimate economic activities are deemed illegal by governments. The future of central bank digital currencies as an alternative to private cryptocurrencies may also be overblown. Private cryptocurrencies have found demand among certain investors not simply because they are digital. Rather, they are thought to be better stores of value, exhibiting more stable purchasing power than fiat currencies.
6. Afghanistan open for investment by India, say Taliban
Afghanistan requires Indian investment, a representative of the Taliban told The Hindu on Sunday. Taliban’s head of political office Suhail Shaheen said a Taliban delegation had met the head of mission of the Indian Embassy in Kabul and invited its teams to help build and sustain infrastructure projects in the country.
“Afghanistan is open for Indian investment including urban infrastructure. This is the message that the Afghan Minister of Urban Development communicated in a recent meeting with the Indian Charge d’Affaires in Kabul,” said Shaheen adding that the Taliban’s Minister of Urban Development Hamdullah Nomani and the Indian Charge d’Affaires Bharat Kumar held discussions on investment and various projects.
Nomani is one of the senior-most Taliban leaders and earlier served as the Education Minister of Taliban from 1996 to 2001.
Earlier, several Indian companies were involved in building and maintaining health and electricity infrastructure projects in Afghanistan and these team were evacuated in August 2021 when the Taliban forces took control of the country through a quick military campaign overpowering the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces of President Ashraf Ghani’s government.
The relation between the Taliban administration and India has remained undefined as India has not recognised the current set-up in Kabul, though an Indian technical team was sent back to reopen the Embassy of India some months ago.
Shaheen, however, promised a peaceful working environment for the Indian companies and said, “Security of Indians is our responsibility and we assure them.” Over the past two decades, Indian public and private sector entities had invested around $3 billion mainly in the infrastructure sector of the country. The investment was under threat after the return of the Taliban last year.
7. Gujarat for revival of provision on conversions
The Gujarat government, buoyed by a recent Supreme Court observation that forcible or fraudulent religious conversion will ultimately affect national security, is pushing for the revival of a provision which requires a District Magistrate’s prior permission for converting or “taking part” in a ceremony involving conversion.
The operation of Section 5 and several other key provisions of the Gujarat Freedom of Religion Act, 2003 was stayed by the State High Court in August last year.
Section 5 had required a person taking part, “directly or indirectly”, in a “ceremony” involving religious conversion to apply for permission to the District Magistrate concerned. Thereafter, the person who had renounced his/her faith should intimate the District Magistrate. Violations had attracted punishment of imprisonment extending to a year or fine of ₹1,000 or both.
The High Court, in its order, concluded that prima facie the 2003 Gujarat Act gave the common man the impression that an inter-faith marriage followed by conversion would amount to an offence.
Later a Supreme Court Bench, led by Justice M.R. Shah, made the remark in a separate public interest litigation petition filed by advocate Ashwini Upadhyay on November 14 about forcible religious conversion being a “very serious issue which may ultimately affect the security of the nation and violate citizens’ right to freedom of conscience and right to freely profess, practice and propagate religion”.
On December 3, the Gujarat government filed an affidavit in Mr. Upadhyay’s case, complaining that the High Court’s stay of Section 5 had even affected “cases where marriage is solemnised by a person of one religion with a person of another religion without force or by allurement or by fraudulent means”. That is, even voluntary inter-faith marriages were stymied by the High Court order.
The State said the “exercise of taking prior permission obviates forcible conversion and protects the ‘freedom of conscience’ guaranteed to all the citizens of the country”.
8. India’s growth and prosperity is linked to the oceans, says Murmu
Saluting the forces: President Droupadi Murmu receiving the book A Decade of Transformation from a marine commando during the Navy Day celebrations in Visakhapatnam on Sunday. V. RAJU
President Droupadi Murmu on Sunday said oceans would play a vital role in India’s growth and prosperity with the future linked to the waters, as in the past.
Addressing a large gathering at the Navy Day celebrations here, Ms. Murmu said the Indian Navy, with its role in the 1971 Liberation War of Bangladesh, had earned a permanent place in history and continued to inspire generations.
“We are inherently a maritime nation being surrounded by oceans on three sides. I am confident that the Indian Navy, which is a combat-ready, credible and cohesive force, propelled by innovation, will grow from strength to strength and represent ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ in its true spirit.”
Calling Visakhapatnam the “jewel of the east coast”, Mr. Murmu said the city had emerged as an important hub as the headquarters of the Eastern Naval Command (ENC). Expressing happiness to launch various projects virtually, she said that the National Open Air Range (NOAR) in Kurnool district would help in strengthening India’s defence sector.
Admiral R. Hari Kumar, Chief of the Naval Staff, spoke on the Navy’s contribution to maritime security and economic development of the nation. “Visakhapatnam has a rich maritime history and the ENC had hosted the Presidential Fleet Review, Milan-2022 and now has the honour of hosting the Navy Day celebrations in the presence of the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces,” he said.
Navy Day is celebrated to commemorate Operation Trident, an attack on the Karachi harbour during the 1971 war. Admiral Kumar recalled that the PNS (Pakistan Naval Submarine) Ghazi had sunk outside the Visakhapatnam port during the war.
This year, for the first time, the Navy Day celebrations are being conducted outside the national capital, he said.
9. Traffickers are moving online in search of victims
Virtual threat: A study shows that 44% of the respondents started using the Internet only after the COVID-19 outbreak. Getty Images
As her classroom moved online during the pandemic, 16-year old Preeti (name changed) got a brand new mobile phone to carry on with her studies. With it came an introduction to social media and end-to-end chatting apps. The young girl from Alwar district of Rajasthan soon met Amit (name changed) on ShareChat and friendship blossomed, leading her to elope with him.
Three months later, she was rescued from Patiala in Punjab, after a relentless investigation and pursuit by police. Many others, however, are never found.
Confined to the digital world due to COVID-19 restrictions over the past two years, traffickers are scouring online classrooms, gaming platforms, matrimonial sites, dating apps, chat apps and even loan apps for potential victims.
In the small towns and villages of India — especially in States which are already known as hotbeds of trafficking such as Rajasthan, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Madhya Pradesh — women and children are being abused, blackmailed and trafficked using Web applications.
A study on changing trends in online abuse and trafficking of women and children done in these four States shows that 44% of the respondents started using the Internet only after the outbreak of COVID-19. It also found that 98% of the respondents use cheaper devices such as smartphones to access the Internet. 51% use it for school or college work, more than 56% for social media, almost 42% for e-commerce and 35% for online gaming.
The study, conducted by Space2Grow and CyberPeace Foundation, further goes on to show that among those who had felt uncomfortable during an online interaction, 53% responded by simply blocking the sender. About 31% told the sender that they were uncomfortable, 25% ignored them, 21% deleted the posts, almost 16% deleted their social media accounts, and 8% relented to the sender’s request after repeatedly saying no to them.
Experts feel that it is these 8% who are at serious risk. The modus operandi of predators ranges from luring somebody through relationships, blackmailing them by morphing their social media photographs, and offering loans which are difficult to pay back in cash.
In fact, there has been a global explosion of such exploitation and India is leading it. According to the U.S.-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s Cyber tipline report for 2021, India accounts for 4.69 million reports of online abuse of children out of the 29.3 million reports worldwide, the highest of any country.
“Child-grooming, which encompasses access and isolation, trust building, desensitisation and coercing and forcing into trafficking, are the tactics which are used,” says Sundar Krishnan, executive director of the India Child Protection Fund. “Online sexual extortion often leads to physical abuse and trafficking,” he added.
“All of the things related to abuse and trafficking of children and women have moved to the cyberspace. The first connect happens on cyber platforms,” says Rakesh Tiwari of the NGO Prayatna who works in Rajasthani districts like Bharatpur.
Traffickers are increasingly using new and innovative digital platforms such as instant loan apps, gaming sites, and deep fake technology.
“For example, once you download an instant loan app, they immediately ask for permission to access your information like the photo gallery and messages. Then the blackmailing starts and further exploitation starts happening,” says Vineet Kumar, founder and president of Cyberpeace Foundation.
The only way out is better awareness among women and children as well as better training for law enforcement agencies and technology platforms.
It is also important to build the capability of law enforcement officials. We need to create a legal deterrence through enhanced detection mechanisms for online and human interface, says Mr. Krishnan.
“The number one thing which we are trying to bring in is a paradigm shift in changing the discourse of child porn as an organised economic crime. It is a thriving multi-billion-dollar industry like a tech unicorn,” he says.
The government has worked to create awareness through programmes such as Digital Shakti, where women are taught how to be safe online.