Daily Current Affairs 14.01.2023 (The buck stops with govt. to end hate speech: SC, Rise in govt. capital spending pushes up investments by 53%, HC takes note of human-elephant conflict in Odisha, Rajasthan to form action plan for protection of geo-heritage sites, Kollam is first Constitution literate dist, Alappuzha sees a decline in visiting waterbirds, Modi flags off world’s longest river cruise from Varanasi to Dibrugarh, Marriage of minor girls: SC to check legality of personal law)

Daily Current Affairs 14.01.2023 (The buck stops with govt. to end hate speech: SC, Rise in govt. capital spending pushes up investments by 53%, HC takes note of human-elephant conflict in Odisha, Rajasthan to form action plan for protection of geo-heritage sites, Kollam is first Constitution literate dist, Alappuzha sees a decline in visiting waterbirds, Modi flags off world’s longest river cruise from Varanasi to Dibrugarh, Marriage of minor girls: SC to check legality of personal law)

1. The buck stops with govt. to end hate speech: SC

Govt. should step in when religious freedom, harmony and orderly progress are gravely affected, says court and flags hate speech on TV where anchors have become tools to peddle ‘agendas’

The Supreme Court on Friday said the “buck ultimately stops with the government” to clamp down on hate speech and hate crimes, as they are offences committed on society.

The government agreed that hate could not hide behind the colour of any religion.

“We would not have liked the government to come in at all, but in certain areas when religious freedom, harmony and orderly progress are gravely affected, it has to intervene… Today what are we fighting about? We have more important things to achieve as a nation — people are starving without jobs,” Justice K.M. Joseph observed. Justice B.V. Nagarathna was also part of the Bench that was hearing a batch of petitions seeking curbs on hate speech.

The remarks from the Bench came after Uttar Pradesh informed the court that it had registered 580 cases of hate speech in 2021-2022. Of these, 160 were suo motu registered by the police. Uttarakhand said it had filed 118 cases.

“This [hate speech] is a complete menace, nothing short of it,” Justice Joseph said. During the hearing, the court highlighted the problem of hate speech on television. It said TV channels and their anchors have become tools to peddle particular “agendas”, creating divisiveness and violent instincts in the society to win their TRP (television rating point) wars.

‘Media not balanced’

“We require a free and balanced media. But they are not balanced… We have got TV for decades now, but you [government] have not thought of anything for TV. Therefore it has become a free-for-all,” Justice Nagarathna said.

Asking if any anchor had been “taken off air” to send a message against triggering hate or bias on TV, the court said “if freedom is exercised with an agenda, you are not actually serving the people but some other cause. Then you have to be dealt with”.

2. Rise in govt. capital spending pushes up investments by 53%

A sharp 61.2% sequential increase in capital spending by the Central and State governments propped up overall fresh investment plans announced in the third quarter (Q3) of 2022-23 to ₹7.1 lakh crore, even though private sector investments dropped 41% from ₹6.31 lakh crore in Q2 to ₹3.71 lakh crore between October and December 2022.

Despite a 15.5% quarter-on-quarter decline in overall new investment plans in Q3, investment projects in the first nine months have crossed ₹21 lakh crore.

3. HC takes note of human-elephant conflict in Odisha

Elephant corridor fragmentation is stated to be the prime reason behind elephants straying into human habitations. File photo

The rising number of human deaths due to human-elephant encounters in Odisha have reached an all-time high, leading to the Orissa High Court scheduling an important hearing on the matter on January 18.

From April 2022 till January 7 this year 117 people have been reported killed in human-elephant encounters, surpassing the 115 fatalities recorded between April 2019 and March 2020. The number of deaths for the same period in 2020-21 was 106, and for 2021-22 it was 108. The number of human deaths is likely to go up further by March this year since harvesting season is on in several regions.

This year, 202 human-elephant encounters have been recorded across the State. During April 2019 to March 2020, as many as 204 such encounters were documented. The disturbing picture of human-elephant conflict is under the spotlight at a time when a Division Bench of the Orissa High Court comprising Chief Justice S. Muralidhar and Justice M.S. Raman will be hearing the PILs concerning elephant deaths on January 18.

Wildlife experts said elephants were venturing into newer habitations in search of paddy and other farm produces. Elephants, especially the males, are attracted to palatable and most nutritious food and have a five times greater tendency to go for crop raids than the female pachyderms.

“They are straying into human habitations due to fragmentation of elephant corridors. Their movement has been obstructed as the State government is going in for blind expansion of industrial, mining and road projects,” said Biswajit Mohanty, a wildlife expert.

Elephant movements have been noticed in areas where people are not habituated to facing the mammals previously. Places like Kendrapara and Puri have now reported elephant movements. Nabarangpur district recently recorded a rare human death in an elephant attack.

Last week, four people in Odisha’s Angul district were trampled to death by a male adult elephant which went on a rampage in different villages.

Mr. Mohanty pointed out that the situation could worsen if the State government does not secure elephant passages or corridors.

About two decades ago, the Odisha government identified 14 elephant corridors or passages which were fragmented or not in shape. These corridors should have been kept free for elephant movements, he said.

During a presentation before the Orissa High Court last month, Raman Sukumar, honorary professor of Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, laid emphasis on securing the corridors.

“In Odisha, Mayurbhanj elephant reserve has been notified and is a very good reserve. Sambalpur elephant reserve is not adequate in size. While the area of the reserve is about 400 sq km, the elephants’ range is about 1000 sq km. Mahanadi elephant reserve is more than 2,000 sq km. There is a need to strengthen the corridor between Sambalpur and Mahanadi reserves,” said Dr. Sukumar.

“Both Sambalpur and Mahanadi reserves can be linked with an elephant corridor. The two reserves, which are home to 75% of the elephant population, hold enormous potential for conservation,”

Important corridors

Stating that two corridors, Nuagaon-Baruni and Hadgarh-Kuldiha corridors, are considered very important for ensuring free movement of elephants, he said, “In the Nuagaon-Baruni corridor, there are obstacles to the free movement of elephants due to ongoing construction of the right and left main canal of Manjhor irrigation project. There are no ramps or overpass for animals to cross.”

“In Hadgarh-Kuldiha too there are more than 100 stone quarries obstructing the movement of elephants,” he said.

4. Rajasthan to form action plan for protection of geo-heritage sites

The Congress government in Rajasthan will shortly come up with an action plan for the protection of 10 geo-heritage sites in the State on the lines of conservation of archaeological monuments. The Mines Department is evolving strategies to deal with threats to these places, while the State government has sought the Centre’s permission for auction of garnet, limestone and potash blocks.

Additional Chief Secretary (Mines) Subodh Agarwal said the steps were also being taken to prevent illegal mining and improve safety measures at the mining sites. The geo-heritage sites, identified by the Geological Survey of India, are situated in Udaipur, Pali, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Bundi and Chittorgarh districts.

These sites have geological features with significant scientific and educational values. The Union government has also prepared a draft legislation for protection of geo-heritage sites and released it in public domain.

Mr. Agarwal, who hosted Union Mines Secretary Vivek Bharadwaj at a meeting on the mining sector here over the weekend, said the Centre had been requested to permit block auctions. He said Jaisalmer would emerge as a cement hub in future and the drilling and sample analysis were being expedited to create blocks which would generate revenue and create employment opportunities.

5. Kollam is first Constitution literate dist.

Shanta placing the Preamble at her home in Kulathupuzha, Kollam. SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Shanta hardly knew that liberty of expression or equality of status was her right. Once enlightened, the 63-year-old has no doubt where to place the Preamble of the Constitution of India.

In her modest two-room house in rural Kulathupuzha, the preamble shares a wall with gods.

A Bhagavatham reciter by profession, she is one among thousands of neo-literates who have been educated on the Indian Constitution as part of The Citizen, a Constitution literacy campaign jointly launched by the Kollam district panchayat, District Planning Committee and the Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA).

As part of the ambitious campaign, around 16.3 lakh people in the district above the age of 10 have been educated on various aspects of the Constitution and the strenuous process involved 2,200 trainers called ‘senators’.

During the seven-month campaign, the senators visited schools, offices, auto stands and tribal councils to spread awareness.

Kollam will be officially declared India’s first Constitution literate district by Chief Minister of Kerala Pinarayi Vijayan on Saturday.

6. Alappuzha sees a decline in visiting waterbirds

A shift in migration patterns of waterbirds appears to be taking place as revealed by a recent survey conducted in the northern parts of Alappuzha. A detailed assessment of the survey, conducted as part of the Asian Waterbird Census 2023, shows that the population of some migratory waterbirds, especially duck species, visiting the region are falling.

The survey, jointly organised by the Social Forestry wing of the Forest Department and Birders Ezhupunna, a birdwatching group, recorded 15,335 birds of 117 species. Last year, the survey sighted some 9,500 birds. Though at a glance the number of birds sighted in the region has recorded an increase, birders say it does not reflect the reality of bird migration to the region.

“Last year, we conducted a bird survey at seven places. This time, the census was held at 13 locations in 12 local bodies. Going through the details, we can say the number of migratory birds visiting the region is actually on the decline,” says Sumesh B., president, Birders Ezhupunna.

Climate change impact

The most shocking aspect was that duck species such as Northern shoveler, Common teal and Eurasian wigeon, sighted in the previous surveys, were totally missing this time around. “Climate change has affected the number of birds visiting the region. However, the precise impact of climate change on bird migration and the environment can only be known after conducting more studies and analysing the results of bird census in the coming years,” says G. Anilkumar, joint secretary, Birders Ezhupunna.

As many as 50 birders from different parts of the State took part in the census. They observed 68 bird species at the Chembakasseri wetlands in Pattanakkad.

Reports to local bodies

As many as 3,838 Lesser whistling ducks were sighted during the survey, followed by Whiskered tern (1,419), Little cormorant (1,106), Indian pond heron (998), Grey-headed swamphen (820), Barn swallow (830), Cotton pygmy goose (657) and Little egret (526).

Organisers of the survey are in the process of submitting the bird census reports to respective local bodies. The survey was inaugurated by K. Saji, deputy conservator (social forestry), Alappuzha, on January 8. A seminar was also held.

7. Modi flags off world’s longest river cruise from Varanasi to Dibrugarh

Set for sail: People board the river cruise MV Ganga Vilas after it was flagged off by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. PTI

This cruise will put Indian tourism destinations on the global map, says Prime Minister, launching the three-deck vessel MV Ganga Vilas that is set to cover a distance of 3,200 km in 51 days

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday flagged off the world’s longest river cruise — MV Ganga Vilas — and inaugurated the tent city at Varanasi. Mr. Modi, who joined the function from New Delhi through video conferencing, also laid the foundation stones for many development schemes and inaugurated projects worth more than ₹1,000 crore for Varanasi.

The longest river cruise from Kashi to Dibrugarh is starting from today, putting Indian tourism destinations on the global tourism map, the Prime Minister said. “Our country is entering into a robust phase of tourism. With a growing global profile, curiosity about India is also increasing,” he said.

“With the tent city, tourists and devotees coming to Kashi now have an incredible means of accommodation,” he added.

An all-rounder

MV Ganga Vilas is the first indigenously made cruise vessel in India. It has three decks, 18 suites on board with a capacity of 36 tourists, with all the modern amenities. It will cover a distance of 3,200 km in roughly 51 days reaching Assam’s Dibrugarh through Bangladesh.

Built with a unique design and a futuristic vision, the MV Ganga Vilas will meander across various prominent destinations that lie along the Ganga and Hooghly. The cruise will pass through 25 different river streams.

The cruise journey is going to bring many spiritual, multinational and natural experiences as it will cover destinations like Kashi, Patna Sahib, Bodh Gaya, Vikramshila, Dhaka and the Sundarbans, pointed out Mr. Modi.

“Those seeking spirituality will cover destinations like Kashi, Bodh Gaya, Vikramshila, Patna Sahib and those wanting to witness the natural diversity will cover destinations like Sundarbans and the forests of Assam,” the Prime Minister said.

In his address, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath dubbed the launch of the cruise as the start of a “new era of tourism” in Kashi. “Uttar Pradesh expresses gratitude to the Prime Minister for connecting Kashi with the eastern port,” he said.

8. Marriage of minor girls: SC to check legality of personal law

A Bench led by CJI D.Y. Chandrachud issues formal notice on a plea filed by the NCPCR; the panel questions personal laws overriding statutes like POCSO, Prohibition of Child Marriage Acts

The Supreme Court on Friday decided to examine whether girls as young as 15 years can enter into wedlock on the basis of custom or personal law when such marriages constitute an offence in statutory law.

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud issued formal notice on the petition filed by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) against a recent order of the Punjab and Haryana High Court that a girl, on attaining puberty or the age of 15 years and above, could be married on the basis of Muslim personal law, irrespective of the provisions of Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Act (POCSO).

The Supreme Court said the High Court order would not act as a judicial precedent for other courts.

Appearing for NCPCR, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted that “girls as young as 14 and 15 are being married. Can personal law and custom be pleaded in the face of statutes such as POCSO and the Indian Penal Code, which make such marriages an offence?”

The Kerala High Court had recently observed that provisions of POCSO would apply if the bride or groom was a minor, irrespective of the validity or otherwise of the marriage.

The NCPCR, through advocate Swarupama Chaturvedi, has contended that laws such as POCSO and the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act are secular in nature and should apply to all sections of the society.

Raising age of marriage

The Prohibition of Child Marriage (Amendment) Bill, 2021 has sought to amend the Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, 2006, to increase the minimum age of marriage for women from 18 to 21 years.

In December 2022, the top court had asked the government to respond to a separate petition filed by the National Commission for Women (NCW) to make the minimum age of marriage for Muslim women on par with persons belonging to other faiths. NCW, like the NCPCR, had raised the question whether personal law could override statutory provisions of POCSO, etc.

The NCW had argued that the practice of marrying below the age of 18 would expose Muslim women to abuse and harassment, and further said that it was arbitrary and discriminatory.

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