Daily Current Affairs 08.03.2023( U.S. is trying to ‘encircle’ China: Foreign Minister, India sending 20,000 tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan via Chabahar, The concerns over linking Aadhaar with voter IDs, Hailstorm, unseasonal rain damage crops in three States, Migrant workers must feel safe and as integral part of the community , The importance of women-led digital solutions )

Daily Current Affairs 08.03.2023( U.S. is trying to ‘encircle’ China: Foreign Minister, India sending 20,000 tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan via Chabahar, The concerns over linking Aadhaar with voter IDs, Hailstorm, unseasonal rain damage crops in three States, Migrant workers must feel safe and as integral part of the community , The importance of women-led digital solutions )


1.  U.S. is trying to ‘encircle’ China: Foreign Minister

America’s Indo-Pacific Strategy seeks to target China through creation of ‘exclusive blocs’, provokes confrontation and tries to create an Asia-Pacific version of NATO, says Qin Gang

China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang on Tuesday accused the United States of attempting “to encircle China” through its Indo-Pacific strategy, taking aim at what he called “exclusive blocs” led by the U.S.

“The U.S. ‘Indo-Pacific Strategy’ seeks to gang up to form exclusive blocs, stir up confrontation, and undermine regional integration,” said Mr. Qin, speaking at the Foreign Ministry’s annual press conference on the sidelines of the National People’s Congress or Parliament session in Beijing.

“The ‘Indo-Pacific Strategy’ claims to safeguard regional security, but in fact it provokes confrontation and seeks to create an Asia-Pacific version of NATO,” he said, adding that “the real purpose of its Indo-Pacific strategy is to encircle China”. Chinese officials have previously referred to the India, U.S., Australia, Japan Quad grouping as well as the AUKUS (Australia-U.K.-U.S.) defence pact as being key elements of this strategy.

Mr. Qin’s remarks followed sharp and rare direct criticism of the U.S. from Chinese President Xi Jinping, who on Monday, addressing a delegation on the sidelines of the NPC, said: “Western countries, led by the U.S., have implemented all-round containment and suppression of China, which has brought unprecedented severe challenges to the country’s development”.

Mr. Xi has emphasised self-reliance in key critical industries, a theme of the NPC session. The session is also expected to pass a number of laws overhauling the party-state machinery to bring greater party control and oversight over government bodies, continuing the trend of centralisation under Mr. Xi. Announced on Tuesday, among the draft measures to be approved by the NPC, was the creation of a new National Financial Regulatory Commission, a super regulatory body to manage China’s $60 trillion banking assets.

Meanwhile, the Chinese Foreign Minister, in Tuesday’s press conference — his first since taking over in December – spoke in detail on the worsening state of China-U.S. relations and reminded Washington of Beijing’s “red line” on Taiwan.

In his more than two hour briefing, Mr. Qin did not comment on relations with India, taking questions only from Chinese journalists as well as reporters from Egypt, Russia, the U.S., Pakistan, Japan, Singapore and France.

Mr. Qin, who served as China’s envoy in Washington prior to his appointment, attacked the Biden administration’s China policy, saying it “claims it seeks to out-compete China but does not seek conflict, yet in reality, its so-called competition means to contain and suppress China in all respects”.

“If the U.S. does not hit the brake but continues to speed down the wrong path, no amount of guardrails can prevent derailing and there will surely be conflict and confrontation,” he said, adding that the recent U.S. shooting down of a Chinese balloon — described by the U.S. as a “spy balloon” and by China as a civilian meteorological airship — was “revealing” of the U.S. “regarding China as a primary rival” and of “U.S. domestic politics and hysterical neo-McCarthyism”.

On Taiwan

On Taiwan, he said it was “the first red line that must not be crossed in China-U.S. relations” and Beijing would take “utmost efforts to pursue peaceful reunification” while “reserving the option to take all necessary measures”.

Drawing a comparison with the Ukraine crisis, he said Asia should not see “a Ukraine-style crisis” and be used as a “chessboard for geopolitical contest”.

“Chinese people have every right to ask why the U.S. talks of respecting sovereignty and territorial integrity on Ukraine, but disrespecting China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity on Taiwan, and why the U.S. asks China to not provide arms to Russia while keeps selling arms to Taiwan,” he said.

Mr. Qin hailed the China-Russia relationship as a model of “strategic trust and good neighbourliness”, adding, pointedly, that “major countries should figure out what they want with each other — building exclusive political blocs or fostering partnerships that are open.”

2. India sending 20,000 tonnes of wheat to Afghanistan via Chabahar

India will send its next consignment of wheat as aid to Afghanistan under the Taliban regime via Chabahar, the External Affairs Ministry said on Tuesday.

The decision, announced at the first meeting of the India-Central Asia Joint Working Group (JWG) on Afghanistan in Delhi, came after the agreement with Pakistan for sending the wheat over the land route expired, and talks on extending the time have failed to proceed.

While India had sent about 40,000 tonnes of the 50,000 tonnes promised after an agreement with the previous Imran Khan government, the shipments had to be called off after floods in Pakistan, and the time allowed by Pakistan ran out.

India has used the Chabahar route in the past, prior to 2021, to send shipments of wheat to Afghanistan

“To address the current humanitarian situation, Indian side announced its partnership with UNWFP (UN World Food Programme) for the delivery of 20,000 tonnes of wheat for Afghan people through the Chabahar Port,” the Ministry said in a statement after the meeting of senior officials and envoys of India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

The JWG meeting comes more than a year after the India-Central Asia summit in January 2022, where the decision to hold a special contact group on Afghanistan was announced.

At the JWG, India also agreed to offer “customised capacity building courses” for UNODC (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) officials and cooperate on initiatives to counter drug trafficking and rehabilitation efforts for Afghan drug users, especially women.

The meet comes even as other Indian and Central Asian officials are taking part in a string of meetings of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation that India is hosting this year.

3. The concerns over linking Aadhaar with voter IDs

Special camps are being held across States for the linkage.

Around 60% of India’s voters now have their Aadhaar linked to their name on the electoral rolls. Activists have raised concerns on disenfranchisement, coercion and privacy as a result of the exercise, which has achieved coverage of over 90% in States such as Tripura, which went to the polls recently, while lagging behind in Gujarat and Delhi, where only around 30% of the electorate has provided their Aadhaar to election officials.

The linking is being carried out by filling Form 6B, which is provided by election officials going door-to-door to collect Aadhaar or any other approved IDs from registered voters. The form was the result of the Election Laws (Amendment) Act passed in 2021 to allow the linking. While the Election Commission (EC) maintains that the linking is optional, Form 6B requires voters to declare that they do not have an Aadhaar to avoid doing so.

The allure of Aadhaar for election authorities is clear: while the EC itself does not have access to the biometrics on the basis of which Aadhaar is issued, the unique identifier issued to each Indian resident allows authorities to flag voters who are registered to vote elsewhere or registered in multiple places. The EC does not authenticate Aadhaar it collects by way of biometrics or one-time passcodes sent by SMS.

Before the Election Laws (Amendment) Act’s passage, the Supreme Court had restricted the mandatory use of Aadhaar to welfare schemes and PAN linking. Form 6B accepts other proofs of identity if a voter does not have Aadhaar, but it is unclear if this approach has any de-duplicating benefits.

As the Aadhaar-Voter ID linking exercise progressed, some voters said election authorities told them that not providing Aadhaar would lead to their name getting deleted from the rolls. The Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) of Delhi later clarified following one such instance that the linking was voluntary, and that enquiries would be made.

Not mandatory

The Hindu reached out to the CEOs of India’s 36 States and Union Territories. Mizoram Joint CEO David L. Pachuau said that voters were informed that the linking was “voluntary” and “not compulsory”. The Joint CEO of Arunachal Pradesh said voters were not being told in the State that linking was mandatory to stay on the rolls. Karnataka’s CEO Manoj Kumar Meena reiterated these points, and added that de-duplication of registrations on the basis of Aadhaar collected had not started. Other CEOs did not respond to written queries.

EC officials reportedly said in December 2022 that the de-duplication process — the natural next step of linking Aadhaar — had not yet started. But an episode from 2019 offers a possible glimpse of mass deletions on the basis of Aadhaar.

That year, activists from the NGO Swecha said that documents they had obtained through Right to Information (RTI) requests had revealed that over 20 lakh voters were deleted from the rolls in Telangana following an Aadhaar-linking exercise, then run on a pilot programme called the National Electoral Roll and Purification Programme (NERPAP). The CEO for Telangana at the time admitted that door-to-door verification was not done for all these deletions. The CEO who followed maintained that the majority of the voters were deleted legitimately, citing a low number of voters who re-enrolled.

Privacy issues also emerge from this exercise.

Pointing to an unusual surge in requests for voter deletions from Shivajinagar in Bengaluru last year, Srinivas Kodali, a technology activist, said Aadhaar linking may enable political parties to micro-target voters.

“The assumption is that only the ECI will do the deletion,” Mr. Kodali said. But “the data has gone beyond the ECI to political parties. ECI can claim they’re not sharing it, but political parties are collecting voter data on the ground or taking it from government officials. Microtargeting through Aadhaar and phone numbers is the issue,” he added.

Activists have raised issues of privacy, disenfranchisement and coercion as a result of the exercise

4. Hailstorm, unseasonal rain damage crops in three States

Hopes crash: A farmer looks at his damaged wheat crops after a hailstorm in Barkheda Nathu village of Bhopal district in Madhya Pradesh on Tuesday.

Chief Ministers of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh order surveys to estimate damage to standing crops in the affected districts; Opposition leaders demand immediate relief to farmers

Hailstorms flattened crops in north Maharashtra region on Tuesday, while unseasonal rain delivered a blow to wheat farmers in Madhya Pradesh. In Gujarat, rain in over 100 talukas have damaged the standing rabi crops.

The wheat, onion and mango crops have been affected, said a Nashik division official, on the impact of the adverse weather in Maharashtra. “The onion crop which was ready for harvest has become wet. More than 1,800 hectares of wheat and onion plantations in Nashik is likely to be affected,” the official said.

Dhule and the Vidarbha region were affected as well.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde has ordered an assessment of the crop damage in the districts affected. Leader of the Opposition in the State and Nationalist Congress Party leader Ajit Pawar on Tuesday said that immediate relief should be provided to the farmers.

In Gujarat, the rain has led to a crisis for farmers in over a dozen rural districts. Amid reports of extensive damage to the standing crops, the State government on Tuesday ordered a survey of crop losses due to unseasonal rains in the affected districts.

The rain at the time of harvest has damaged a number of crops in Saurashtra and north and central Gujarat districts.

In the past few days, heavy rain was reported in parts of Rajkot, Amreli and Bhavnagar districts. Rain accompanied by strong winds and thunderstorms lashed Rajkot city, parts of Dhari, Savarkundla, Damnagar, and Lathi taluks of Amreli district, worrying mango growers.

“There is a forecast for unseasonal rains for the next two days and so we will get a final report on crop loss from the districts after that,” Gujarat Agriculture Minister Raghavji Patel said in the State Assembly.

Meanwhile, in a farm-related development, the Gujarat government announced a ₹330-crore special package for onion and potato growers, as the prices of red onion and potato have crashed recently due to a glut in the market.

In Madhya Pradesh, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh has ordered a survey of the losses for farmers. The wheat crop in Bhopal, Sehore, Raisen, Vidisha and a few other districts were flattened by the strong wind and hailstorms.

5. Home and away

Migrant workers must feel safe and as integral part of the community

The rumours and fake news about migrant workers in Tamil Nadu being attacked have seen the quick intervention of the authorities, assuring the workers of their safety. Many workers, most from Bihar, have been seen at railway stations waiting to leave for their home State after a video clip of violence between two groups of migrant workers was interpreted as an attack on migrant workers by locals. In any case, some of the workers were planning to be home for Holi festivities. Even before the problem could snowball, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin did well to contact his Bihar counterpart Nitish Kumar. There has been quick follow up elsewhere too. The Tamil Nadu police filed cases against those spreading rumours, which included the editor of the Dainik Bhaskar, under various sections of the Indian Penal Code. A person has been arrested in Jamui district of Bihar for sharing a misleading video clip. The Bihar police have also found some videos and news reports to be misleading and fake. Officials from Bihar and Jharkhand have visited the migrant hubs of Coimbatore and Tiruppur, and industry representatives are doing their bit to reassure the workers.

The issue has, unfortunately, paved the way for chauvinistic politics in Tamil Nadu and Bihar. The role that migrant workers play in different fields of economic activity in Tamil Nadu, particularly real estate, is well known. According to CREDAI Tamil Nadu, the migrant community oversees 85% of the work in big projects and 70% in medium-scale projects. It also has a visible presence in manufacturing, textiles, construction, and hospitality. A Tamil Nadu Labour Department survey in 2015 estimated that the State had around 11.5 lakh migrant workers. The episode has only highlighted the need for politicians to exercise caution and restraint when commenting on issues regarding migrant workers. Under the garb of protecting the interests of local people, many leaders have often denigrated migrant workers or held them responsible for problems such as locals facing unemployment. The message, as Mr. Stalin highlighted in his conversation with Mr. Nitish Kumar, that workers “who help in the State’s development are our workers”, should be internalised by all political parties across the spectrum. At the same time, the government, which has been rolling out welfare measures for the community, should include the supply of pulses and edible oil at concessional rates under the Public Distribution System, supplementing what is being given under the ‘One Nation One Ration Card’ scheme. An exclusive wing can be formed to address the issues and problems migrants face. The government can also institute a fresh and comprehensive study of migrant workers and help in their integration with the local community, to make them feel at home.

6. The importance of women-led digital solutions


The theme for International Women’s Day 2023 is ‘DigitALL: Innovation and Technology for Gender Equality.’ The transformational and all-encompassing role of digital technology is growing even faster in the post-pandemic world. But sadly, the digital revolution also poses the challenge of perpetuating gender inequality, which is increasingly noticeable in the manner in which women are left behind in knowledge of digital skills and access to technologies.

In the small holder farming sector, for instance, boosting female ownership of mobile phones and training on how to use them is crucial given that agricultural and market information are increasingly being delivered through digital platforms. The need for inclusive technology and digital education is essential for a sustainable future. In this context, the challenge and opportunity we have are not just about leveraging digital tech and innovation for creating gender equality but also placing women as the torchbearers of digital innovations and leaders in the community.

Nutrition and empowerment

A case in point is the introduction of digital training and mobile tablets for the cook-cum-helpers who drive PM POSHAN. Ninety per cent of them are women.

Nearly, three million cook-cum-helpers play a critical role in preparing and providing hot, cooked meals to millions of schoolchildren under the scheme. Nutritional improvement through the mid-day meals scheme is inextricably linked with food safety. Unsafe food served in schools has the potential to create a vicious cycle of disease and malnutrition, impacting school children who eat these meals.

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in partnership with the Governments of Odisha and Rajasthan has rolled out technology-based training modules housed in an application, and mobile tablets for strengthening the capacity of the community in ensuring that proper hygiene and safety measures are followed so that children reap the full benefits of the nutrition that these school meals offer. The FoSafMDM application is available on the Google Play Store and can be used on any android device.

By bringing together access to a digital device, digital literacy, and community ownership for women, the initiative has infused fresh energy and confidence in how women perceive and deliver their roles as nutrition champions.

Digital literacy, food security

Unleashing women’s economic power helps to lift millions out of poverty and food insecurity, and one of the keys to achieving this is digital literacy. This strengthens financial inclusion and creates potential new income streams.

We see this transformation in communities that are under-served in terms of access to digital services and opportunities. The National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5) indicates that 54% women and 64% children in India’s urban areas are anaemic.

In a pilot on financial literacy and digital literacy being implemented by the WFP with women self-help groups across low-income groups in Delhi’s urban slums, nearly 70% of women wanted to acquire new skills. Most were aware of the potential of digital platforms to start businesses and add to family income. A needs assessment conducted by the WFP among urban poor women in Delhi showed that few had a bank account. Many had smartphones but were dependent on family members to help them use the devices. Women were, however, aware of the benefits of financial and digital literacy in advancing their businesses and incomes, and therefore were keen to learn.

The women participating in training said that going forward, they will prioritise access to financial services to manage their own economic activities efficiently and take informed decisions to enhance their livelihoods, food security, and nutrition.

Gender-responsive approach

India accounts for half the world’s gendered digital divide given that only a third of all Internet users in the country are women. In Asia-Pacific, India has the widest gender gap of 40%. Less than 32% of women in India own a mobile phone compared to over 60% of men. Women generally have handsets that cost less and are not as sophisticated as those used by men, and their usage of digital services is usually limited to phone calls and text messages. Owning and using a digital device is a household decision taken by the man.

The NFHS-5 shows that more than 18% of women between 15 and 49 years have a low body mass index while more than half the pregnant women in the same age group are anaemic. Access to digital literacy and platforms would create awareness about the gap and needs in the populations that are often on the margins of the digital revolution.

Women can harness digital tools for improving nutrition schemes and initiatives, while also using them to create economic opportunities that ensure long-term food and nutrition security.

Women can harness digital tools for improving nutrition schemes and initiatives and to create economic opportunities

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