1. Gotabaya govt. loses majority in Parliament
Over 40 MPs of Sri Lanka’s ruling alliance sit separately
Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa lost his parliamentary majority on Tuesday, as a group of lawmakers from the ruling party and its allies sat independently in the House, deserting the government that faces enormous public criticism for “mishandling” the country’s economic crisis. In another inflexion point in the crisis, newly appointed Finance Minister Ali Sabry resigned from the Cabinet barely 24 hours after taking charge.
Over 40 MPs, including from key ally, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), quit the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP or People’s Front)-led alliance, and the government lost its majority in the 225-member legislature. Their defection signalled the collapse of the government‘s popularity that, in 2020, fetched it a formidable two-thirds majority. However, there is no vote of confidence scheduled yet to test the strength of the government or Opposition.
In his address to Parliament on Tuesday, Leader of the Opposition Sajith Premadasa blamed the government for the current crisis, and said it was time for the country to abolish Executive Presidency that allows the President sweeping powers to take unilateral decisions. Opposition legislator and Jaffna MP M.A. Sumanthiran too intervened, challenging the government to put its recently imposed Emergency regulations to vote in the House, as is mandated in the Constitution.
However, Mr. Gotabaya revoked the Emergency late on Tuesday, ahead of a possible vote on it.
Parliament will convene on Wednesday to debate the country’s economic crisis that has resulted in severe shortage of essentials for citizens and skyrocketing prices. It has also led to a spontaneous eruption of street protests, with citizens demanding that the President step down.
Mr. Gotabaya’s attempt to appoint a “new” Cabinet after the mass resignations on Sunday appeared to have backfired, with Mr. Sabry resigning barely 24 hours after his appointment. The Secretary to the Treasury and Finance Ministry also quit on Tuesday, resulting in two key positions falling vacant amid the economic crisis.
Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund from which Sri Lanka has sought support, on Tuesday said it is monitoring the developments “very closely” amid the growing public unrest, Reuters reported.
2. Strengthen secularism, save the republic
India, as a nation, can survive only as a secular state — where the state has no religion and does not promote any religion
The High Court of Karnataka has not been able to settle the hijab issue. Its judgment has further provoked the hijab-wearing college students in Udupi, who have now approached the Supreme Court of India to contest the order. The judgment of the High Court is very technical. It almost reads like a petition and betrays an excessive eagerness to disprove the other side. This unusual eagerness goes to the point where the court has dismissed a plea of a violation of fundamental rights by merely stating that there was no proper pleading.
Political dimension will fester
The issue of the hijab is political as well as constitutional. The top court will examine the constitutional aspect and its judgment will hopefully settle the issue. But the political dimension of the hijab issue will continue to trouble Indian society for a long time. No great research is needed to unearth the fact that the seemingly sudden eruption of this issue reflects an insidious intolerance which is quite uncharacteristic of the majority religious community. As a matter of fact, Hindu and Sikh women in northern India cover their heads on all important occasions such as a marriage, a funeral, religious ceremonies, etc. It is a measure of the transformation that has taken place in Indian society that a piece of cloth is enough to serve as provocation for people to come out onto the street and fight against each other. In such an environment of intolerance, the claims of traditional tolerance, pluralism and catholicity seem like a bad joke.
A moral framework
But the fact is that India does have such a past where people from other parts of the world were welcomed with open arms and allowed to live here in peace and amity for millennia. Proselytising religions did gain some following here but they never posed any serious challenge to the majority religion. A tolerance of other faiths and compassion toward fellow beings became an integral part of Indian traditions because of the Buddha. He gave India the moral framework within which to shape our exchanges with other fellow human beings. The transformation which is being brought about today is clearly outside that moral framework. The Buddha bequeathed to us great wisdom which is being frittered away with a vengeance.
The Constitution of India adopted that moral framework for the governance of India. Equality, justice and fraternity are as much a part of the great Buddhist tradition as of the modern European Renaissance. It is in fact the good fortune of India and perhaps a historical inevitability that leaders such as Jawaharlal Nehru and B.R. Ambedkar were there to give shape to the ideas of a modern nation, rooted essentially in the moral traditions of Buddhism and assimilating the egalitarian impulses of the modern world. Thus, the Indian Constitution provides for freedom of religion and conscience on the one hand and secularism for the governance of the country on the other. Many in this country passionately argue that secularism in India means that the state has equal respect for all religions. This mistaken emphasis leads rulers to attend religious ceremonies donning religion-specific dresses and performing rituals publicly. This is more political grandstanding than any genuine demonstration of faith.
But the point being made here is that under the Indian Constitution too there is a separation of religion from the state as in Europe. In fact, this separation was a major inflection point in the history of the Renaissance in Europe. The essence of India’s secularism is that the state has no religion. This is clear from Articles 27 and 28 of the Constitution.
Article 27 says that no tax can be levied for promoting any particular religion. In other words, no public revenue is permitted to be spent in favour of any particular religion. Article 28 says that no religious instruction shall be given in any educational institutions wholly maintained out of state funds. The same Article says that no educational institution recognised or aided by the state shall compel any person to attend religious classes or worship therein. Article 25(2)(a) empowers the state to regulate secular activities associated with religious practice. Article 15 prohibits any kind of discrimination on the ground of religion. Above all, freedom of religion is made subject to other fundamental rights, apart from the reasonable restrictions on the grounds of public order, morality and health. Thus, the freedom of religion under the Constitution does not enjoy the same status as other secular rights such as equality before law, non-discrimination, right to life and liberty, etc.
It is clear from the above that secularism enshrined in the Indian Constitution is based on the principle that the state has no religion. The Indian state is organised on this foundational principle. In Indira Nehru Gandhi vs Shri Raj Narain & Anr, the Supreme Court of India had reaffirmed this principle. The Court said: “the state shall have no religion of its own”.
Religiosity in public life
There is too much religiosity in public life in India. So, we have conveniently changed the meaning of secularism into ‘sarva dharma sambhav’ which would only lead to majoritarianism and, ultimately, to the establishment of a theocratic state. We have seen that such a state of mind as “samabhav” does not exist in reality in today’s India. Theocracy will ensure the disintegration of the country.
The reasons are not far to seek. India is a multi-religious country where the largest minority is around 200 million. The Government of India had notified as many as six minority religions in the country. So, a theocratic state with the majority religion as the state religion is an unworkable proposition.
Another crucial factor which makes a theocratic state impossible in India is the complex, inegalitarian, hierarchical and oppressive social structure of the majority religion. A theocratic state functions on the basis of religious laws, which in India means the Dharma Shastras according to which only a particular caste has the right to rule and a large majority of the population will have no right to be a part of the power structure. They will have no human rights and will be perennial victims of systemic oppression and injustice. Since a theocratic state based on the religious texts, in the Indian context, would mean a state which would deny equality before law and equal protection of law to the subaltern class and discriminate against them on the basis of caste, it will be inherently unstable. This may lead to perennial conflicts and the eventual disintegration of society.
A foundational principle
Therefore, we reach the inevitable conclusion that India, as a nation, can survive only as a secular state where the state has no religion and does not promote any religion. It is a measure of the thoughtlessness of people that educated Indians speak derisively of secularism and have begun to support the idea of a theocratic state based on the majority religion. Their mood is being shaped by the razzmatazz of the religio-political campaigns of today. The wise men who led the freedom struggle and framed the Constitution had a deep understanding of India’s multi-religious and multicultural character and also the complexities of its social structure. Secularism was chosen as the foundational principle of the republic to keep the nation united. Enlightened citizens should realise that if secularism is jettisoned, the hard-won national unity will be in peril. It is the patriotic duty of every citizen to strengthen secularism and thus save the republic.
3. The Indian Antarctic Bill and its various provisions
What are the objectives of the draft? What has India achieved with respect to Antarctic research and exploration?
The Indian Antarctic Bill, 2022 introduced in the Lok Sabha envisages regulating visits and activities to the Antarctic. It also prescribes penal provisions for certain serious violations.
India is a signatory to the Antarctic Treaty which came into force on June 23, 1961. Of the 54 signatory countries, 29 have ‘consultative’ status that give them voting rights. The Treaty parties meet each year at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting.
India has now established two standing research stations in Antarctica, Bharati and Maitri. The major thrust areas of the Indian Antarctic Programme are climate processes and links to climate change, environmental processes and conservation and polar technology.
The story so far: The Union government on Friday introduced the Indian Antarctic Bill, 2022, that aims to lay down a set of rules to regulate a range of activities on territories in Antarctica where India has set up research stations.
What does the Antarctic Bill envisage?
Introduced by Union Science Minister, Jitendra Singh in the Lok Sabha, the Bill envisages regulating visits and activities to Antarctica as well as potential disputes that may arise among those present on the continent. It also prescribes penal provisions for certain serious violations. If the Bill were to become law, private tours and expeditions to Antarctica would be prohibited without a permit or the written authorisation by a member country. A member country is one of the 54 signatories of the Antarctic Treaty signed in 1959 — India joined the Treaty System in 1983.
The Bill also lays out a structure for government officials to inspect a vessel and conduct checks of research facilities. The draft also directs the creation of a fund called the Antarctic fund that will be used for protecting the Antarctic environment. The Bill extends the jurisdiction of Indian courts to Antarctica and lays out penal provision for crimes on the continent by Indian citizens, foreign citizens who are a part of Indian expeditions, or are in the precincts of Indian research stations.
Following its first expedition to Antarctica in 1982, India has now established two standing research stations, Bharati and Maitri, at Antarctica. Both these places are permanently manned by researchers. The Bill also establishes a ‘Committee on Antarctic Governance and Environmental Protection.’ The Bill prohibits mining, dredging and activities that threaten the pristine conditions of the continent. It bans any person, vessel or aircraft from disposing waste in Antarctica and bars the testing of nuclear devices.
Why was this Bill necessary?
Mr. Singh remarked in Parliament that India had been a signatory to the Antarctic Treaty since 1983, which obliged it to specify a set of laws governing portions of the continent where it had its research bases. “Antarctica is a no man’s land…It isn’t that India is making a law for a territory that doesn’t belong to it….the question is in the territory involving India’s research stations, if some unlawful activity happens, how to check it? The Treaty made it mandatory for the 54 signatory countries to specify laws governing territories on which their stations are located. China has five, Russia has five, we have two,” said Mr. Singh. India is also signatory to treaties such as the Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources and the the Protocol on the Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty — both of which enjoin India to help preserve the pristine nature of the continent.
“There is growing concern over preserving the pristine Antarctic environment and ocean around Antarctica from exploitation of marine living resources and human presence in Antarctica… India organises regular Antarctic expeditions and many persons from India visit Antarctica every year as tourists. In the future, the private ship and aviation industry will also start operations and promote tourism and fishing in Antarctica, which needs to be regulated. The continuing and growing presence of Indian scientists in Antarctica warrants a domestic legislation on Antarctica consistent with its obligations as a member of the Antarctic Treaty. This is also in sync with the emergence of India as a global leader on important international fronts,” the text of the Bill notes.
What is the history of the Antarctic Treaty?
The Antarctic Treaty came into force on June 23, 1961 after ratification by the 12 countries then active in Antarctic science.
The Treaty covers the area south of 60°S latitude. Its key objectives are to demilitarise Antarctica, to establish it as a zone free of nuclear tests and the disposal of radioactive waste, and to ensure that it is used for peaceful purposes only; to promote international scientific cooperation in Antarctica and to set aside disputes over territorial sovereignty.
Of the 54 signatory countries, 29 have ‘consultative’ status that give them voting rights. The Treaty parties meet each year at the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting. They have adopted over 300 recommendations and negotiated separate international agreements. These, together with the original Treaty, provide the rules which govern activities in the Antarctic. Collectively they are known as the Antarctic Treaty System (ATS).
What research does India conduct at Antarctica?
India has organised 37 expeditions to Antarctica. The major thrust areas of the Indian Antarctic Programme are climate processes and links to climate change, environmental processes and conservation and polar technology. The operational expenditure of the Antarctic expedition is ₹90-110 crore annually depending on the projects and services.
4. ‘BrahMos sale to Philippines a bilateral deal’
Envoy says though Russia was part of its development, its sale is a transaction between two countries
While the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile was a joint development between India and Russia, the sale of the systems to the Philippines was a transaction between the two countries, and India would be able to move ahead on a “bilateral basis”, Indian Ambassador to the Philippines Shambhu Kumaran has said, amid the global developments following the Russian war in Ukraine.
The Philippines was also given a clarification on the accidental BrahMos missile launch recently.
“I did have an opportunity to speak to Philippines Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and our Ministry of Defence has clarified… There was a query and we responded with the fact there was no technical issue as far as we could understand it. There is an inquiry under way, we will have that cleared once the information is available,” Mr. Kumaran said.
Stating that the decision to purchase it by Philippines was a high political decision, the Envoy said it was enabled by a combination of factors, but driven by the political understanding between the two countries.
‘A frontline system’
Elaborating he said that the first agreement was signed only in March last year, a second agreement in November and the deal was signed this January. “This is a frontline system in the Indian defence forces and the fact that we are willing to share was appreciated by the Philippines,” Mr. Kumaran explained. “There is definitely in terms of the Philippines self-defence national security requirements, a clear requirement on the part of their armed force of this capability.”
To a question if China may have an issue with the sale, the envoy referred to a Philippines statement that it saw it as a self-defence platform and so he did not see “how this can be a concern in other capitals.”
Referring to interest from the Philippines in acquiring other defence equipment , he said discussions were on for systems related to aerospace and Navy. He said Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. had offered to do a technical briefing on the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft Tejas and there was a “degree of interest” from Manila.
5. ‘IPCC report endorses India’s position on climate finance’
Climate change is a global action problem, says Bhupender
The Monday report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) endorses India’s position on the need for scale, scope and speed in climate finance, Union Environment Minister, Bhupender Yadav said in a prepared statement on Tuesday.
Limiting global warming would require major transitions in the energy sector and would mean drastic reduction of fossil fuel use, widespread electrification, improved energy efficiency, and the use of alternative fuels, the authors of the study warned.
“India firmly believes that climate change is a global collective action problem that can be solved only through international cooperation and multilateralism. India will continue to be the voice of ambition as well as champion of equity on behalf of developing countries,” Mr. Yadav said at an event organised by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) on minimising plastic pollution.
The IPCC report focused on mitigation, or what could be done to reduce emissions to keep the globe on track to ensure that temperature did not exceed over two degrees Celsius — and strive to keep it below 1.5 degrees Celsius — by the end of the century.
Close to 80% of the total carbon budget for ensuring temperature did not exceed 1.5 degrees Celsius and 66% of the carbon budget for preventing an overshoot over 2 degrees Celsius had been used up. Half the global population, the vast majority of the developing world, was responsible for only 14% of global emissions, Mr. Yadav noted.
“India believes that the utilisation of resources must be made on mindful and deliberate utilisation and not mindless and destructive consumption,” he added.
6. ‘Rural India will create 1.2 cr. jobs in dairy sector’
Work can ensure food security: Sodhi
Rural India will create 1.2 crore new jobs in dairy-related activities in 10 years and these jobs would mean livelihood and food security for a large segment of the population in the country, said R.S. Sodhi, MD, Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (Amul).
The sector has the potential to generate a large number of new jobs, entrepreneurial opportunities, and sustainable incomes for families and therefore ensure food security, he said while addressing a gathering at an Amul facility.
The country’s dairy sector would do well for the next 50 years, especially when many neighbouring countries were facing milk shortages, added Mr. Sodhi.
Software firm SAP and Amul announced a joint community outreach, focused on knowledge transfer and technology capacity building that would transform the lives of 1.5 million people in Gujarat. More than one lakh children, adolescents and women will be helped with digital literacy and skilling through computer labs in schools.
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