Daily Current Affairs 17.05.2021 (UNSC calls for end to violence in Gaza, India calls for ‘immediate de-escalation’ of hostilities, Adoption issues to the fore as COVID-19 leaves many orphaned)

Daily Current Affairs 17.05.2021 (UNSC calls for end to violence in Gaza, India calls for ‘immediate de-escalation’ of hostilities, Adoption issues to the fore as COVID-19 leaves many orphaned)


1. UNSC calls for end to violence in Gaza

Its chief warns that crisis could plunge region into an ‘uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis’

Israeli strikes killed at least 42 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, the worst daily death toll yet in the almost week-long clashes, as the UN Security Council met amid global alarm at the escalating conflict.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres pleaded for an immediate end to the deadly violence, warning that the fighting could plunge the region into an “uncontainable security and humanitarian crisis”.

“Fighting must stop. It must stop immediately,” Mr. Guterres said as he opened a Security Council session delayed by Israel’s ally the U.S., calling the violence over the past week “utterly appalling”.

The heaviest fighting in years, sparked by unrest in Jerusalem, saw the rivals again trade heavy fire, with the death toll rising to 192 in the crowded coastal enclave of Gaza since Monday and at 10 in Israel, according to authorities on either side.

Israel told the UNSC that the violence was premeditated by Hamas, urging condemnation of the militants during the UNSC session.

“It was completely premeditated by Hamas in order to gain political power,” said Israel’s Ambassador to the world body, Gilad Erdan.

Mr. Erdan said that Hamas escalated tensions due to internal Palestinian political manoeuvring after the Palestinian Authority President, Mahmud Abbas, delayed long-awaited elections.

Israel said on Sunday morning its “continuing wave of strikes” had in the past 24 hours struck over 90 targets across Gaza, where the destruction of a building housing news media organisations sparked an international outcry.

In Gaza, the death toll kept rising as emergency teams worked to pull out bodies from vast piles of smoking rubble and toppled buildings, as relatives wailed in horror and grief.

Israel’s Army said that about 3,000 rockets had been fired from the coastal strip towards Israel — the highest ever — of which about 450 failed launches fell in the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system had intercepted over 1,000 rockets, the Army said, in almost a week during which Israeli residential buildings have been hit, with over 280 people suffering injuries.

“The intensity of the conflict is something we have not seen before, with non-stop airstrikes in densely populated Gaza and rockets reaching big cities in Israel,” said the International Committee of the Red Cross.

At least 58 children have lost their lives in Gaza, local health authorities said, more than 1,200 people have been wounded and entire buildings and city blocks reduced to rubble.

UN Security Council

  • The Security Council was established by the UN Charter in 1945. It is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations.
    • The other 5 organs of the United Nations are—the General Assembly, the Trusteeship Council, the Economic and Social Council, the International Court of Justice, and the Secretariat.
  • Its primary responsibility is to work to maintain international peace and security.
  • The council has 15 members: the five permanent members and 10 non-permanent members elected for two-year terms.
    • The five permanent members are the United States, the Russian Federation, France, China and the United Kingdom.
  • Each member of the Security Council has one vote. Decisions of the Security Council on matters are made by an affirmative vote of nine members including the concurring votes of the permanent members. A “No” vote from one of the five permanent members blocks the passage of the resolution.
  • Any member of the United Nations which is not a member of the Security Council may participate, without vote, in the discussion of any question brought before the Security Council whenever the latter considers that the interests of that member are specially affected.
  • The council’s presidency is a capacity that rotates every month among its 15 members.
  • The council is headquartered at NewYork.

2. India calls for ‘immediate de-escalation’ of hostilities

We urge both sides to show extreme restraint, desist from actions that exacerbate tensions: Tirumurti

India called for an immediate de-escalation of the situation between Israel and Palestine at the first public United Nations Security Council meeting held since the current surge in hostilities between the two parties entered its seventh day, killing at least 149 people in Gaza and 10 in Israel, including many children. The virtual public meeting was held on Sunday after diplomats reached a compromise following U.S. objections to a public meeting, Reuters reported.

“Immediate de-escalation is the need of the hour, so as to arrest any further slide towards the brink. We urge both sides to show extreme restraint, desist from actions that exacerbate tensions, and refrain from attempts to unilaterally change the existing status-quo, including in East Jerusalem and its neighbourhood,” India’s Permanent Representative and Ambassador to the UN, T.S. Tirumurti, told the Security Council on Sunday.

“The indiscriminate rocket firings from Gaza targeting the civilian population in Israel, which we condemn, and the retaliatory strikes into Gaza, have caused immense suffering and resulted in deaths,” Mr. Tirumurti said, adding that India had lost one of its citizens, a caregiver in Ashkelon (Soumya Santosh, 30, from Kerala).

The trust deficit between Israel and Palestinian authorities was increasing, as there were no direct negotiations between the two, he said. “We believe that every effort should be made to create conducive conditions for resumption of talks between Israel and Palestine,” Mr. Tirumurti said.

The UN, Qatar and Egypt are trying to broker a ceasefire. Mr. Tirumurti said India had already voiced its concern over the violence in Jerusalem at closed-door meetings of the 15-member council held earlier this week (neither of which resulted in a joint statement).

“In both these meetings, we had expressed our deep concern over the violence in Jerusalem, especially on Haram Al Sharif/ Temple Mount during the holy month of Ramadan [Ramzan] , and about the possible eviction process in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighbourhood in East Jerusalem, an area which is part of an arrangement facilitated by the UN,” he said.

He said India supported the efforts of the Quartet (UN, U.S., EU and Russia) and others, and expressed India’s support to the “just Palestinian cause” and its “unwavering” support for the two-state solution.

3. Adoption issues to the fore as COVID-19 leaves many orphaned

Only the district-level child welfare committee can decide the future of children who have lost both parents to the infection

At Ganjam district in Odisha, a 45-day-old girl was found next to her mother’s body when neighbours broke open the door of their house at Golapalli village. Suspecting it to be a case of death due to COVID-19, the local police sent the corpse for post-mortem and contacted the centre in charge for Childline 1098, the national helpline for children, to arrange help for the infant.

In Delhi, a mother left two daughters, a 15-year-old and a seven-year-old, with her neighbours before getting admitted in a hospital and losing her battle against COVID-19.

At Ghaziabad in Uttar Pradesh, COVID-19 dealt a cruel blow and claimed the lives of four members of a family over 12 days, leaving behind two daughters aged six and 10. “I will not send the girls to any institution, I will raise them,” said Anil Kumar (name changed), their paternal uncle. “It is what their father wished. Just two days before his death, he kept asking us to look after them if something happened to him. Earlier, too, he had raised this issue on several occasions,” Mr. Kumar added.

The second wave of COVID-19 has left many children extremely vulnerable, particularly those who have been orphaned. Childline 1098 recorded 51 calls between May 1 and 12 for children whose parents had died of COVID-19, but the actual number was likely to be much higher as there were several other helplines and many cases go unreported.

Earlier this month, alarm bells started ringing among child rights activist after messages on social media and WhatsApp groups began circulating containing adoption appeals for children who had recently been orphaned by COVID-19. Within days, Minister for Women and Child Development Smriti Irani took to Twitter to flag such adoption requests as “illegal”, and urged people to prevent trafficking in the garb of adoption and report all such cases to 1098, to the police or a child welfare committee (CWC). On May 6, the Ministry asked the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare to add a column in hospital admission forms asking patients to specify in whose custody their children could be left in case of any eventuality.

Only a district CWC could decide the future of children found orphaned in such circumstances.

Take the example of the child found in Odisha. No one has come forward yet to claim the little girl, though efforts were made to contact the estranged husband of the deceased and the child’s maternal and paternal grandparents, according to Sai Prasad Samal, Childline centre in charge in Ganjam. As a result, the district CWC referred the child to a special adoption agency for interim care. The District Child Protection Unit (DCPU) would now undertake a social investigation, which would include efforts to find members from the extended family who could be given the custody of the child. Failing that, the child may be declared orphaned, surrendered or abandoned before she is declared legally free for adoption.

In the case of the two Delhi sisters, though the neighbours were keen on keeping the girls with them, they would have to be produced before a CWC. The CWC would first make efforts to find members of the birth family and then make an assessment.

Kinship care

Experts said adoption for such children was neither the first nor the best option, and recommended kinship care as a more suitable alternative.

“We have learnt from disasters such as the tsunami of 2004, cyclones in Odisha, and the Latur and Kutch earthquakes that if children have faced one crisis such as a loss of a family member or separation from their parents due to death and desertion, then the emotional trauma for them is very high. Over the years, we have learnt that the best way to respond to such a crisis is to retain the child within the birth family so that the child doesn’t face double trauma. In the case of COVID-19 orphans, they may have grandparents or uncle and aunts who are willing to take care of them. The intervention required in such situations is assistance and support for the prevention of family separation,” said Nilima Mehta, a child rights and adoption expert.

Bharti Ali, co-founder of HAQ: Centre for Child Rights, agreed. “This is the time to focus on kinship care. The Ministry of Women and Child Development and all State departments concerned should immediately roll out a kinship care programme and make it part of foster care provisions under the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015.” She said additional measures should be taken such as assigning DCPUs the task of surveillance as well as follow up of children directly affected due to the loss of one or both parents, or those whose parents were in hospital with nobody to look after them.

Activists said State governments must make kinship care part of the child protection system such as Maharashtra’s Bal Sangopan Yojana, where the State grants educational support of ₹1,000 per month to families to look after orphaned children.

Where relatives are interested to help, as in the case of the Uttar Pradesh family, they could follow the Hindu Adoption and Maintenance Act, 1956, or the Juvenile Justice Act, 2015, to adopt or seek legal custody under the Guardianship and Wards Act, 1890.

4. Editorial-1: The road from Ladakh is paved with disruptions

China-India ties are moving into a zone of problems even as New Delhi grapples with pandemic-related issues

It has been a year since the news of tensions between Indian and Chinese troops on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Ladakh first broke. Dismissed as a “routine” event in the first few weeks by officials, the truth about the extent of Chinese ingress could no longer be hidden when India lost 20 soldiers in a violent clash with soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in mid-June. As has been evident from commercial satellite imagery, sparse official statements and a few interviews, the crisis eventually involved seven places: Depsang plains, Galwan, Gogra, Hot Springs, North bank of Pangong Tso, Kailash range and Demchok.

Border crisis

The situation at Galwan was resolved a few weeks after the deadly clash, and the two sides disengaged from the face-off site. The Indian Army had occupied certain heights on the Kailash range in end-August, where it was in an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation with the Chinese. In February this year, the two sides agreed to disengage from this location and from the north bank of Pangong Tso. This was announced by India’s Defence Minister in Parliament, where he also said that the two armies will convene the next meeting of the senior commanders within 48 hours after the complete disengagement in the Pangong lake area “to address and resolve all other remaining issues”. The last such meeting of commanders was held on April 9, but the Chinese have refused to even discuss the remaining issues.

Such an outcome was not entirely unexpected. India had lost its only leverage on the Kailash range for the sake of disengagement on the north bank. This happened after India reversed its position of simultaneously resolving all the flashpoints in Ladakh rather than deal with them piecemeal. India’s military rationale was evident: with soldiers and tanks of the two armies barely a few metres apart, the situation was explosive and could escalate into a major crisis with a minor incident or accident. It was also clear that by restricting itself to its own side of the LAC on the Kailash range, India had not taken control of the more dominating peaks like the Black Top and had a weak hand to play with. Politically, the Narendra Modi government seemed keen to announce a closure of the border crisis by creating the impression of an honourable solution against a major power.

Three months later, no such closure is in sight. With the PLA troops denying India access to territories it controlled by patrolling, the government’s avowed aim of restoring the status quo ante as of April 2020 remains unfulfilled. Even on the north bank of Pangong, a new status quo has been created where the patrolling rights are yet to be restored. Similarly, the Kailash range has seen neither de-escalation nor de-induction so far.

In each statement, both India and China reiterate the need “to ensure peace and tranquillity” in border areas. Even if there have been no further deaths after June and no firing after early September, the peace on the border is both unstable and unsustainable. Ongoing tensions, with massive deployments on each side, belie any hope of tranquillity. That the security establishment in New Delhi is cognisant of the volatility and risk can be gauged from the fact that the Indian Army has undertaken a major reorientation of its units and formations towards the China border.

COVID-19 and geopolitics

Even as the situation on the border poses a tricky challenge for India, its geopolitical concerns have been exacerbated by the devastation caused by the mismanagement of COVID-19. Through its ‘Vaccine Maitri’ programme, New Delhi was presenting itself as a better alternative to Beijing’s vaccine diplomacy, particularly in South Asia. Shaken by scenes of massive suffering and public criticism, the Modi government has backtracked on existing contractual commitments to supply vaccines to its friendly neighbours. Countries such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have started procuring vaccines from China, further casting doubts on India’s reliability as a partner and raising questions about its ability to act as a counter to China. Sensing the opportunity, Beijing also moved in quickly, organising a meeting with all South Asian countries except India, ostensibly to deal with the pandemic.

New Delhi was also the lynchpin of the Quad’s pledge to deliver a billion doses of COVID-19 vaccine throughout the Indo-Pacific by the end of 2022, an effort focused on countering Chinese influence in the region. With India now trying to import vaccines for its own population and reneging on its commitments to other poor countries under GAVI’s COVAX scheme, the proposal now seems to be on a weak footing. The abysmal failure of the Modi government to anticipate and deal with a public health crisis has diminished India’s aura as an emergent power. A Prime Minister tom-tomming the mantra of ‘Atmanirbharata’ or self-reliance has been forced to reverse a 16-year-old policy to accept global aid has laid bare India’s vulnerabilities, further reducing its standing as the Quad’s anchor.

A weaker India is not only less attractive as a partner globally, it makes New Delhi more dependent on the United States to deal with China. That India has been acting at the behest of the U.S. has been one of China’s presumptions and this would only confirm Beijing’s worst fears. It would further strain India-China ties, directly linking them to the vagaries of the China-U.S. relationship. The hypothesis that India can safeguard its land borders by strengthening its oceanic prowess could then be put to test, a scenario New Delhi wants to avoid at all costs.

Meanwhile, the threat of a two-front collusive threat after the Ladakh crisis forced the Modi government to seek peace with Pakistan. The back channel talks, facilitated by the United Arab Emirates, led to the announcement of the ceasefire on the Line of Control which has held so far. But there have been contradictory voices emerging from Islamabad and the process seems to be floundering, as Pakistan awaits the steps on Kashmir promised by the Modi government. No political environment has been created in India for any such step so far.

New Delhi’s preoccupation with the pandemic may brook a delay of few weeks but fears of failure, a routine happening in India-Pakistan engagements, loom large. It is hard to predict the Pakistani course of action hence, but if the past is an experience to go by, it has usually been spiteful, reckless and dangerous, especially when India is seen as weak. Coupled with the imminent American military withdrawal from Afghanistan and a win for the Taliban, the signs are ominous. An assertive China and a vengeful Pakistan acting in concert on the land borders is India’s military nightmare, which New Delhi will have to avoid at all costs.

Chinese supplies

Meanwhile, Beijing has made certain significant moves towards New Delhi in the recent days. China’s President Xi Jinping sent a message to Mr. Modi to convey sympathy and express condolences over the pandemic, which was the first communication between the two since the border crisis began last year. The Chinese Foreign Minister spoke to his Indian counterpart twice and offered help to deal with the pandemic, which led to an early clearance and approval of cargo flights from China. The Chinese Ambassador to India has been highlighting the supplies and the material being sent to India.

Beijing’s efforts have been largely confined to private companies and donations from the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies, unlike other countries which have pledged government help to India. Curiously, much of the Chinese media ambiguously frames it as Chinese aid, while India explicitly avoids that framing and lays stress on the point that these are largely commercial contracts between private companies. Even if the Chinese intent is to project itself on a par with other global powers providing relief and aid to India, the fact remains that India is heavily dependent on China for crucial medical supplies. State-owned Sichuan Airlines had suspended cargo flights to India for 15 days beginning last month, but the supply chains have since been kept open by Beijing. This is in tune with the Indian demand from Beijing that the supply chain should remain open but the other demand to ensure stable product prices has not been met.

More point scoring

If the recent weeks during the pandemic provided an opportunity for the two Asian giants to work together, that hope has been lost as both governments have focused on point scoring. That reflects the broader state of bilateral ties, but is also a fundamental difference emanating from the ongoing border crisis. As the talks between India and China have floundered, New Delhi has taken a position that the border issue is central to the bilateral relationship. This runs contrary to Beijing’s argument that the boundary question cannot be seen as the whole of the bilateral relationship. In an ideal world, New Delhi can hope for a settlement that delineates and demarcates the LAC in some form but Beijing has ruled out any such proposal. With soldiers of both armies facing each other in Ladakh and a lack of trust between the two countries as the two governments talk past each other in a period of geopolitical churn, it is clear that the China-India bilateral relationship is moving into a zone of increasing disruptions, and attendant risks of conflagration on the disputed border.

5. Editorial-2: It is getting from bad to worse for women workers

In the pandemic, women have borne a disproportionate burden of the severe disruptions to life and the economy

The COVID-19 pandemic has destroyed millions of livelihoods and led to a sudden and large increase in poverty and a massive disruption of the labour market in India. Women workers, in particular, have borne a disproportionate burden. As the country meets the challenge of the second wave of the pandemic, it is crucial to learn lessons from the first wave to chart the policy path ahead.

A widening gap

Even prior to 2020, the gender employment gap was large. Only 18% of working-age women were employed as compared to 75% of men. Reasons include a lack of good jobs, restrictive social norms, and the burden of household work. Our recently released report, ‘State of Working India 2021: One Year of Covid-19’ shows that the pandemic has worsened the situation.

The nationwide lockdown hit women much harder than men. Data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy Pvt. Ltd. show that 61% of male workers were unaffected during the lockdown while only 19% of women experienced this kind of security. Even by the end of the year, 47% of employed women who had lost jobs during the lockdown, had not returned to work. The equivalent number for men was only 7%.

Men who did lose work were able to regain it, even if it was at the cost of increased precarity or lower earnings, because they had the option of moving into fallback employment arrangements. Thus, 33% of formal salaried men moved into self employment and 9% into daily wage work between late 2019 and late 2020. In contrast, women had far fewer options — only 4% and 3% of formal salaried women moved into self employment and daily wage work, respectively. Nearly half of the women workers, irrespective of whether they were salaried, casual, or self-employed, withdrew from the workforce, as compared to only 11% of men.

Even as new entrants to the workforce, women workers had poorer options compared to men. Women were more likely to enter as daily wage workers while men found avenues for self-employment. Daily wage work is typically far less remunerative than self employment as on average, between September to October 2020, a daily wage worker earned about ₹7,965 compared to a self-employed worker who earned nearly twice that at ₹12,955. So, not only did women enter into more precarious work, it was also likely to be at very low earnings compared to men.

Women tended to lose work disproportionately irrespective of the industry in which they were employed. For instance, the share of women in job losses in education was three times their share in that industry. So, while around 20 out of 100 workers in education were women, amongst those who lost work, about 70 out of 100 were women. Similarly, in the health sector, 40 out of 100 workers were women, while of the 100 in this sector who lost work, 80 were women.

Growing domestic work

With schools closed and almost everyone limited to the confines of their homes, household responsibilities increased for women. Married women and women from larger households were less likely to return to work, suggesting that the burden of care may be a reason for poor employment recovery. But even for those women who managed to remain employed, this came alongside a massive increase in the burden of household work. The India Working Survey 2020 found that among employed men, the number of hours spent on paid work remained more or less unchanged after the pandemic. But for women, the number of hours spent in domestic work increased manifold. In February-March, about 10%-20% of women reported spending between two to four hours on domestic work. This share had increased to about 50% by September. This increase in hours came without any accompanying relief in the hours spent on paid work.

The course to take

The long-standing question of women’s participation in India’s economy has become more urgent with the pandemic disproportionately impacting women’s paid work and increasing the burden of unpaid care work. The following measures are needed now: expansion of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) and the introduction of an urban employment guarantee targeted to women as soon as the most severe forms of mobility restrictions are lifted.

We further propose co-ordinated efforts by States to facilitate employment of women while also addressing immediate needs through the setting up of community kitchens, prioritising the opening of schools and anganwadi centres, and engagement with self-help groups for the production of personal protective equipment kits. Further, a COVID-19 hardship allowance of at least ₹5,000 per month for six months should be announced for 2.5 million accredited social health activists and Anganwadi workers, most of whom are women.

But this is not enough. The National Employment Policy, currently in the works, should systematically address the constraints around the participation of the women’s workforce, both with respect to the availability of work and household responsibilities. The pandemic has shown the necessity of adequate public investment in social infrastructure.

The time is right to imagine a bold universal basic services programme that not only fills existing vacancies in the social sector but also expands public investments in health, education, child and elderly care, and so on, to be prepared for future shocks. This can help bring women into the workforce not only by directly creating employment for them but also by alleviating some of their domestic work burdens, while also overcoming nutritional and educational deficits that we are likely to be confronted with as we emerge from this crisis.

6. Editorial-3: Restructuring the tribunals system

It is time to set up a National Tribunals Commission

The Centre has abolished several appellate tribunals and authorities and transferred their jurisdiction to other existing judicial bodies through the Tribunals Reforms (Rationalisation and Conditions of Service) Ordinance 2021. This Ordinance has been challenged in the Supreme Court.

Sharp criticism

The Ordinance has met with sharp criticism for not only bypassing the usual legislative process, but also for abolishing several tribunals such as the Film Certification Appellate Tribunal without any stakeholder consultation. Despite the Supreme Court’s direction in Rojer Mathew v. South Indian Bank (2019), no judicial impact assessment was conducted prior to abolishing the tribunals through this Ordinance. While the Ordinance has incorporated the suggestions made in Madras Bar Association v. Union of India (2020) on the composition of a search-cum-selection committee and its role in disciplinary proceedings, it has also fixed a four-year tenure for Chairpersons and members of tribunals “notwithstanding anything contained in any judgment, order, or decree of any court” by blatantly disregarding the court’s direction for fixing a five-year term. Further, the Centre is yet to constitute a National Tribunals Commission (NTC), an independent umbrella body to supervise the functioning of tribunals, appointment of and disciplinary proceedings against members, and to take care of administrative and infrastructural needs of the tribunals. The idea of an NTC was first mooted in L. Chandra Kumar v. Union of India (1997), but it has still not seen the light of day.

Initiating dialogue and promoting awareness about the NTC is vital for overcoming the government’s inertia in establishing such a body. Developing an independent oversight body for accountable governance requires a legal framework that protects its independence and impartiality. Where the institutional design is not properly conceived, partisan interests can twist the law to serve political or private interests. In India, executive interference in the functioning of tribunals is often seen in matters of appointment and removal of tribunal members, as well as in provision of finances, infrastructure, personnel and other resources required for day-to-day functioning of the tribunals. Therefore, the NTC must be established vide a constitutional amendment or be backed by a statute that guarantees it functional, operational and financial independence.

One of the main reasons that has motivated the idea of NTC is the need for an authority to support uniform administration across all tribunals. The NTC could therefore pave the way for the separation of the administrative and judicial functions carried out by various tribunals. A ‘corporatised’ structure of NTC with a Board, a CEO and a Secretariat will allow it to scale up its services and provide requisite administrative support to all tribunals across the country.

Administrative duties

The NTC would ideally take on some duties relating to administration and oversight. It could set performance standards for the efficiency of tribunals and their own administrative processes. Importantly, it could function as an independent recruitment body to develop and operationalise the procedure for disciplinary proceedings and appointment of tribunal members. Giving the NTC the authority to set members’ salaries, allowances, and other service conditions, subject to regulations, would help maintain tribunals’ independence. Administrative roles of the NTC include providing support services to tribunal members, litigants, and their lawyers. For this purpose, it would need to be able to hire and supervise administrative staff, and to consolidate, improve, and modernise tribunals’ infrastructure.

As the Finance Ministry has been vested with the responsibility for tribunals until the NTC is constituted, it should come up with a transition plan. The way to reform the tribunal system is to look at solutions from a systemic perspective supported by evidence. Establishing the NTC will definitely entail a radical restructuring of the present tribunals system.

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