1. India’s tiger population tops 3,000, shows census
The population has grown the most in the Shivalik hills and Gangetic flood plains, but there is a decline in the Western Ghats numbers, though ‘major populations’ are said to be stable
India has at least 3,167 tigers, according to estimates from the latest tiger census made public on Sunday. While this is ostensibly an increase since the census of 2018, the numbers are not strictly comparable, as a key calculation to compute the maximum and minimum range of the tiger population is yet to be done.
There were 2,967 tigers recorded in 2018, and 2,226 in 2014. Sunday’s figures were provisional and could be revised, an official involved with the census told The Hindu.
The tiger population numbers were made public by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Mysuru on Sunday, at an event to mark the International Big Cat Alliance conference and the 50th anniversary of Project Tiger.
Western Ghats decline
The tiger population has grown the most in the Shivalik hills and the Gangetic flood plains, followed by central India, the northeastern hills, the Brahmaputra flood plains, and the Sundarbans. There was a decline in the Western Ghats numbers, though “major populations” were said to be stable.
The tiger numbers are estimated by adding animals caught in camera traps, and those that may not have been captured in this way. The latter are estimated by statistical techniques. “We have found 3,080 unique tigers in camera traps this time. In the last census, it was 2,603. However, for the latest census, we have not finished computing the estimates of tigers outside such traps as well as the State-wise break-up of tigers, so the numbers may differ. We expect it to be done within three months,” said Qamar Qureshi of the Wildlife Institute of India, one of the scientists involved in the census exercise.
In their four-year estimates, the scientists provide a range of the estimated tiger population, and the mean value is highlighted as the latest tiger population.
For instance, in 2018, the tiger population was a minimum of 2,603 and a maximum 3,346 with a mean value of 2,967.
The current estimate also does not give numbers on the proportion of tigers outside protected areas, which are a growing number and a key marker of the environmental threats as well as man-animal conflicts. However, the authors of the census report warn that nearly all of the five major tiger-zones face challenges to the growth of the tiger population due to the increasing demands from infrastructure development.
Since 1973, when Project Tiger was established, the number of dedicated tiger reserves has grown from nine reserves covering 18,278 square km to 53 reserves spanning 75,796 square km, which is roughly 2.3% of India’s land area. However, experts have said that most of the country’s tigers are focused within a handful of reserves which are fast approaching their peak carrying capacity, and unless new regions are developed as reserves, it may be a challenge to ensure further growth in numbers.
Following the translocation of cheetahs from Africa, India is now looking at international initiatives to translocate tigers into other locations. It is in talks with Cambodia, where the tiger has gone extinct due to poaching, to create a suitable habitat there and ship a few tigers from India to revive the big cat’s population in that country.
2. Telecom authorities block 120 sender IDs for bulk messaging over China link
Telecom authorities have blocked as many as 120 headers operated by a group linked to a Chinese entity in the past two months based on information provided by the Union Home Ministry.
A header, also known as sender ID, is a unique combination of characters or numbers representing the brand or company name of the message sender. Headers are used by banks, marketing companies, utility providers and even government offices to send bulk messages (SMS) to consumers and customers.
An investigation by the Indian Cyber Crime Coordination Centre (I4C) under the Ministry found that the headers were hosted from China.
Citing an example, a Ministry official said the header of West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Ltd. — WBSEDC — was compromised and taken over by a Chinese host. The header was misused to dupe consumers who received messages pertaining to outstanding electricity bills.
“The SMS contained malicious links, which when clicked would lead to financial loss for the consumer as the hacker would get access to the person’s phone. Consumers would fall for it as the header genuinely belongs to the electricity distribution company,” the official said.
Another official added that the scam was going on for at least three years and it was only recently that the officials at I4C flagged the issue. “The IP addresses of all the headers that were blocked were traced to China,” said the official.
Following the investigation done by I4C, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) wrote to telecom companies to respond within 30 days about active or dormant headers.
On February 16, to stop the misuse of headers and message templates, TRAI issued directions to Access Service Providers to reverify and block all un-registered headers and message templates in 30 days and 60 days respectively.
Parliament was informed last month that more than 15 lakh mobile numbers detected to have been issued on fraudulent credentials, have been disconnected by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT).
The Centre has been trying to strengthen I4C that was started in 2020. The Threat Analytical Unit (TAU) of the I4C analyses the pattern of financial crimes and frauds and sends reports to central agencies such as the National Investigation Agency (NIA), Enforcement Directorate or State police forces.
3. India to bridge language gap with neighbours
Considering our cultural imprints in these countries, India cannot afford to ignore these countries
Looking to expand its cultural footprint in nations with which it has historical ties, including those in its immediate neighbourhood, India is planning to create a pool of experts in languages spoken in countries such as Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Uzbekistan and Indonesia to facilitate better people-to-people exchanges.
The Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) has envisaged a special project called ‘The Language Friendship Bridge’, which plans to train five to 10 people in the official languages of each of these countries.
As of now, the ICCR has zeroed in on 10 languages: Kazakh, Uzbek, Bhutanese, Ghoti (spoken in Tibet), Burmese, Khmer (spoken in Cambodia), Thai, Sinhalese and Bahasa (spoken in both Indonesia and Malaysia).
“Considering our cultural imprints in these countries, India cannot afford to ignore these countries,” ICCR President Vinay Sahasrabuddhe toldThe Hindu.
In India, the focus till now has been on learning European languages such as Spanish, French and German, along with the languages of major Asian economies such as China and Japan. Though a number of universities and institutes offer courses in these languages, only a handful teach any of the 10 languages on the ICCR list. Sinhala, for example, is taught at Banaras Hindu University and the School of Foreign Languages (SFL) under the Ministry of Defence. The SFL also has courses in Bahasa, Burmese and Tibetan.
“India requires translators, interpreters and teachers in the languages of these countries with which it shares a cultural history,” Dr. Sahasrabuddhe said. The idea is to enable India to translate its epics and classics, as well as contemporary literature, into these languages so that people can read them.
The ICCR is in discussion with universities and institutes as well as experts offering foreign language courses in the country on the modalities of implementing the project. Among those being consulted are the foreign language departments at Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi University, Hyderabad’s English and Foreign Languages University, Banaras Hindu University, and Mahatma Gandhi Antarrashtriya Hindi Vishwa Vidyalaya at Wardha.
The discussions, sources said, have thrown up two possibilities. One is to start tie-ups wherein teachers from these countries come and teach courses in India. The second approach is the ICCR offering scholarships to Indian students to go and study these languages in the countries where they are spoken.
Language experts feel that the second option is the better one as a proper cultural environment is needed to learn a language in its entirety. “To learn any language, a person has to be in that country. There are many aspects which one needs to learn, like expressions and proper pronunciation, which happen only in the correct environment,” said Soma Ray, a former senior faculty member at the SFL who now teaches at St. Stephen’s College in Delhi University.
She also emphasised the need for proper utilisation of trained language experts.
Experts also feel that the ICCR’s list of languages needs to be expanded, with India seeing a boom in cultural and economic ties with other neighbouring countries as well.
Meeta Narain, a professor at the Centre for Russian Studies in Jawaharlal Nehru University, offered the example of medical tourism. “A large number of people are visiting India for treatment from countries like Turkey, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Maldives and there is an urgent need for a pool of translators and interpreters for facilitating their visits as well,” she said.
Possibly recognising this, JNU will soon be starting a course in Pashto.
The ICCR said that after the rollout of the project this year, the possibility of expanding the current list of languages would be discussed.
4. Centre plans revamp of livestock insurance scheme to raise coverage
Poor coverage: The Parliamentary Standing Committee’s report reveals that not even a single animal was insured during 2022-23, whereas during 2021-22, 1,74,061 animals were insured.
At present, less than 1% of the country’s cattle population is insured; finding the yearly premium to be unaffordable for most farmers, the government is looking at reducing the rate and providing a subsidy for cattle rearers of SC/ST communities
Pulled up recently by a Parliamentary Standing Committee for zero insurance coverage of livestock in 2022-23, the Centre is considering a comprehensive livestock insurance scheme modelled on the Prime Minister’s Fasal Bima Yojana. The Union Animal Husbandry Ministry’s move is to roll out the scheme ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha election. There are initial proposals to waive off premium for cattle rearers from Scheduled Caste (SC) and Scheduled Tribe (ST) communities. At present, less than 1% of the country’s cattle is insured and the average yearly premium is 4.5% of the insured amount.
The Animal Husbandry Ministry recently held a meeting with various insurance companies and other stakeholders on the matter. “Our effort is to reduce the premium so that more farmers enrol in the scheme,” an official said, adding that a comprehensive livestock insurance will replace the present Livestock Insurance Scheme.
The scheme is functional in 100 districts of the country. The Centrally sponsored scheme is being managed by the respective State Livestock Development Boards.
Recently, the Animal Husbandry Ministry had told the Standing Committee on Agriculture and Animal Husbandry that farmers are often caught in the fight between State government officials and insurance companies. A report submitted to Parliament by the panel on Demands for Grants of the Ministry quoted an official, and said the Ministry prefers direct transfer of benefits to farmers’ accounts.
The panel said in the report that not even a single animal was insured during 2022-23, whereas during 2021-22, 1,74,061 were insured.
“The Committee were informed of the hardships faced by the livestock owners in getting their livestock insured and also about the measures being taken to ease the process of livestock insurance. Expressing concern over no Insurance during 2022-23, the Committee recommended the Ministry to take effective steps so that the process of insurance of livestock is made easy for the beneficiaries. The Committee would also like the Department to explore the possibility of developing an App-based Livestock Insurance facility for livestock owners. The Committee would like to be apprised of the total progress made by the Department in this regard,” the report added.
The official said high premium rate and general economic conditions of farmers are reasons for lower enrolment in such schemes. “The government considers subsidy on the premium paid by socially marginalised farmers from SC-ST communities,” the official added.
In the meeting with insurance companies, the Centre stressed the importance of expanding the ambit of the scheme and decreasing the premium paid by the farmers.
During the lumpy skin disease pandemic, about two lakh cattle died. Farmers had demanded compensation from the government for the loss. Hence, the Centre’s attempt is to keep the premium low and ensure maximum coverage of livestock.
“The coverage at present is very poor as most of the farmers are not in a position to pay premium. Some exquisite cattle breeds are insured by the breeders, but the government wants to insure more animals,” the official added.
Several farmers’ organisations had also demanded comprehensive livestock and crop insurance in the background of pandemics such as lumpy skin disease.
5. No scientific data to oppose same-sex marriage, says psychiatrists’ body
Examples abound: The IPS concluded that children raised by same-sex couples did not systematically differ from other children on any of the outcomes.
Indian Psychiatric Society gathered scientific data from countries where same-sex marriage and adoption have been legalised to prove that there is no scientific basis in the belief that same-sex couples are not fit to be parents
The Indian Psychiatric Society (IPS), the professional organisation of psychiatrists in India, marshalled scientific data from countries where same-sex marriage and adoption have been legalised to prove that there is no scientific basis in the belief that same-sex couples are not fit to be parents. The body issued a statement on Sunday mentioning the positive impact of legalisation of same-sex marriage on the mental health of individuals on the LGBTQIA spectrum.
The move comes amid an ongoing case in the Supreme Court over providing legal validation for same-sex marriages.
The IPS, in its statement, mentioned that individuals on the LGBTQIA spectrum be treated like all citizens of the country, and they should “enjoy all civil rights like marriage, adoption, education, and employment, to name a few”.
Opposing the Union of India’s counter affidavit in the Supreme Court, they argued that “there is no evidence to indicate that individuals on the LGBTQIA spectrum cannot partake in any of the above. On the contrary, discrimination which prevents the above, may lead to mental health issues”.
Based on research
The statement issued by the IPS is based on scientific research conducted in countries such as the U.K., the U.S., the Netherlands and Taiwan, where same-sex marriage and adoption by LGBTQIA couples has been legalised.
Dr. Ajit Bhide, the ex-president of IPS, says that “nowhere did we find that the same-sex couples were inept in adopting and fostering children.”
“A study looking at 23 empirical studies on children raised by lesbian mothers or gay fathers were reviewed [one Belgian/Dutch, one Danish, three British, and 18 North American] that took into consideration their emotional functioning, sexual preference, stigmatisation, gender-role behaviour, behavioural adjustment, gender identity, and cognitive functioning. It concluded children raised by same-sex couples did not systematically differ from other children on any of the outcomes,” the body said, further countering the Indian government’s stand.
Lawyer and queer rights activist Rohin Bhatt said the statement was a welcome step. “We have read reports about all sorts of unscientific hogwash from the Solicitor-General about the effect marriage equality will have on children, but a statement based on scientific knowledge countering that argument will surely go a long way,” he said.
The IPS also stated that a child adopted into a same-gendered family may face challenges, stigma, and/or discrimination along the way and therefore, it is imperative that, once legalised, such parents bring up the child in a gender-neutral, unbiased environment.
Further, the panel stressed the importance of sensitising social units such as families, communities, schools and society in general to protect and promote the development of such a child, and prevent stigma and discrimination at any cost.
6. EDITORIAL-01: Draconian rules
New amendment rules on intermediary guidelines amount to censorship
With the advent of social media — the product of the evolution of the Internet into a sphere of communication that allows for relatively unfettered user-generated content — the problem of misinformation has taken a grotesque form. Express measures to curb misinformation, called “false news” and the somewhat inaccurate “fake news”, are a must. However, this raises the question whether the Union government or its divisions can be the regulating entity. In the IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Amendment Rules, 2023, the Union government has added a provision of a fact-check unit to identify fake or false or misleading online content related to the government. Against such content identified by this unit, intermediaries, such as social media companies or net service providers, will have to take action or risk losing their “safe harbour” protections in Section 79 of the IT Act, which allows intermediaries to avoid liabilities for what third parties post on their websites. This is unacceptable and problematic. Also, Section 69A of the IT Act, 2000 elucidates the procedure to issue takedown orders, which these notified amendments could bypass. They also run afoul of Shreya Singhal vs Union of India (2015), a verdict with clear guidelines for blocking content.
Without a right to appeal or the allowance for judicial oversight, the government cannot sit on judgment on whether any information is “fake” or “false” as the power to do so can be misused to prevent questioning or scrutiny by media organisations. Takedown notices have been issued by the government for critical opinion or commentary on social media platforms, with several having to comply with them and only a few such as Twitter contesting them in courts. By threatening to remove a platform’s immunity for content that is flagged by a government unit, it is clear that the Union government intends to create a “chilling effect” on the right to speech and expression on online platforms. To keep the establishment — which includes the executive government of the day — on its toes and to speak truth to power is a non-negotiable and salient role of journalism in a democracy. In India, freedom of the press is guaranteed through Article 19 of the Constitution, with media rights and public right to free speech derived from this Article. It stands to reason that any relationship between the government and the media should be one kept at arm’s length, with the media having sufficient freedom. The government being the arbiter on what constitutes “false” or “fake” news and having the power to act upon platforms for publishing these will amount to draconian censorship.