Daily Current Affairs 18.02.2023(Over 1,000 pangolins poached and trafficked in India in past five years, Article 370 case: CJI pledges to take call on listing of pleas, ‘Global slowdown path still uncertain, India to decouple’ , Parliament should remain a forum for free debate and discussion , The Centre’s suggestions on changes in MGNREGS seem misguided )

Daily Current Affairs 18.02.2023(Over 1,000 pangolins poached and trafficked in India in past five years, Article 370 case: CJI pledges to take call on listing of pleas, ‘Global slowdown path still uncertain, India to decouple’ , Parliament should remain a forum for free debate and discussion , The Centre’s suggestions on changes in MGNREGS seem misguided )


1. Over 1,000 pangolins poached and trafficked in India in past five years

An Indian Pangolin at the Kanha reserve in Madhya Pradesh. Two species of pangolin are found in India.

On the eve of World Pangolin Day observed on February 18, a not-for-profit organisation working on the international trade of animals and plants, has brought out a fact sheet reporting that 1,203 pangolins have been found in illegal wildlife trade in India from 2018 to 2022.

Up to 24 States and one Union Territory saw seizures of pangolins and their derivates. Odisha reported the maximum number of incidents, with 154 pangolins in 74 seizures. It was followed by Maharashtra with 135 pangolins in 47 seizure incidents. The publication, titled ‘India’s Pangolins Buried in Illegal Wildlife Trade’, has tracked 342 total incidents during this time period.

Merwyn Fernandes, coordinator of TRAFFIC’s India office, said in the organisation’s fact sheet that up to 50% of seizures included live pangolins and 40% involved pangolin scales. “India reports a significant number of pangolin trafficking incidents reflected by seizures across the country. They are poached mainly for international markets in China and southeast Asia for their scales, which are used as an ingredient in traditional medicines,” he was quoted as saying.

India is home to two species: the Indian Pangolin, found across the subcontinent; and the Chinese Pangolin, found across a larger area in south Asia. Bihar, West Bengal, and Assam see the presence of both. Both species are included under India’s Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act that could result in a jail term for those hunting animals listed here.

An analysis of illegal pangolin trade in India by TRAFFIC in 2018 reported poaching of 6,000 pangolins between 2009 and 2017.

2. Article 370 case: CJI pledges to take call on listing of pleas

Activists raise slogans against the removal of special status for J&K during a protest in New Delhi on August 5, 2019. 

The case has been pending in the Supreme Court for over two years; it has not come up after a five-judge Bench refused to refer the petitions to a larger Bench in March 2020

Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud on Friday yet again assured that he will “take a call” about listing petitions challenging the abrogation of provisions under Article 370 of the Constitution, a move that had deprived Jammu and Kashmir of its special privileges and led to the bifurcation of the State in 2019.

The case was orally mentioned for early listing by petitioners.

It had similarly been mentioned on December 14 last year. At the time, the CJI had assured the petitioners with the words, “I will examine and give a date”.

Prior to December, the case was mentioned for early listing on September 23, 2022, before the current CJI’s predecessor, Justice U.U. Lalit, who had promised that it would come up after October 10.

The Article 370 case has been pending in the Supreme Court for over two years. The case had not come up after a five-judge Bench refused to refer the petitions to a larger Bench in March 2020. The case had since been mentioned several times for early hearing.

The petitions have challenged a Presidential Order of August 5, 2019 which blunted Article 370. The Article had accorded special rights and privileges to the people of Jammu and Kashmir since 1954 in accordance with the Instrument of Accession.

Following the dilution of Article 370, the Jammu and Kashmir (Reorganisation) Act of 2019 came into force and bifurcated the State of Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

In a day, Jammu and Kashmir had lost its full statehood and became a Union Territory of the Central government.

The move had been preceded by a state of lockdown in the Valley.

The various petitions have challenged the Centre’s “unilateral” move to impose curfew and unravel the unique federal structure of India by dividing Jammu and Kashmir “without taking consent from the people”.

Separate petitions have contended that the August 5 Order and the Jammu and Kashmir Reorganisation Act of 2019 were arbitrary.

The August 5 Order, by replacing the recommendation of the ‘Constituent Assembly’ with that of the ‘Legislative Assembly’ in order to alter the terms of Article 370, assumed that the legislative assembly of the State of Jammu and Kashmir had a power that its own Constitution, under Article 147, denied to it. Thus, the August 5 Order was ineffective, the petitions said. The government, in response, has countered that the Presidential Order of August 5 has become fait accompli.

3. ‘Global slowdown path still uncertain, India to decouple’

Domestic consumption and investment to benefit from stronger prospects for agriculture, strengthening consumer confidence and strong credit growth, officials write in RBI Bulletin

Even though the global slowdown in 2023 may be milder than anticipated earlier, the trajectory still remains unpredictable, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) officials observed in a bulletin article on the ‘State of the Economy’, adding, however, that India’s economy would likely decouple from the rest of the world.

In India, domestic consumption and investment would benefit from stronger prospects for agricultural and allied activities, strengthening business and consumer confidence, and strong credit growth, the officials led by Deputy Governor Michael D. Patra wrote in the RBI Bulletin.

“Supply responses and cost conditions are poised to improve even though inflation witnessed a rebound in January. The Union Budget 2023-24’s emphasis on capital expenditure is expected to crowd-in private investment, strengthen job creation and demand, and raise India’s potential growth,” they asserted.

According to the officials, India would decouple from macroeconomic projections of current vintage and also from the rest of the world.

4. Editorial-1: Executive fiat

Parliament should remain a forum for free debate and discussion

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has stood by his statements made during his speech in the Lok Sabha on February 7, in his response to a charge of breach of privilege of the House that was raised by a Bharatiya Janata Party member and a Union Minister. It is strange that a Member of Parliament, whose duty it is to hold the executive accountable to Parliament, is being accused of breach of privilege of the House for seeking answers on crucial issues. Portions of Mr. Gandhi’s speech, made during a discussion on the ‘Motion of Thanks on the President’s Address’, that referred to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ties with industrialist Gautam Adani were expunged from the record of the House. When a member’s own rights are being curtailed in the name of parliamentary privilege, the very concept is being reduced to an instrument of executive fiat. Mr. Gandhi raised pertinent questions regarding the political patronage received by the Adani Group, which is in the eye of a storm after a short seller based in the United States brought to light dubious patterns in the group’s transactions and ownership. The government has not provided any answers. And, on top of it, the sword of privilege is being wielded against the Opposition leader. The expectations from the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and the Chairman of the Rajya Sabha are to protect the majesty of Parliament, particularly in its interactions with other branches of the state, rather than disciplining the members.

The parliamentary discussions on the Adani controversy, which were vitiated by the unreasonable restrictions on Opposition leaders, follow a devious trend of executive imperium over the legislative branch in some States too. Chief Ministers of many States command supreme powers — they control their parties, dominate over the Opposition, and take Assemblies for granted. Assembly sittings have become fewer and debates shallow. The argument that popular leaders now make is that they are answerable to the people directly — Mr. Modi also invoked the ‘blessing of 140 crore people,’ while speaking in Parliament on February 8, but the range of questions arising out of the Hindenburg report on the Adani Group remained unanswered. People seek accountability from the elected government through their elected representatives, and the legislature is mandated to mediate that interaction. Mr. Gandhi asked questions as he should. Asking him to adhere to parliamentary norms in doing so is par for the course. But more critically, the government should be required to respond to the allegations. It is a sign of erosion of parliamentary authority that it is not happening.

5. Going off-course

The Centre’s suggestions on changes in MGNREGS seem misguided

A key to the success of any welfare programme is the conviction in its implementation. In the 17 years since the MGNREGS has been implemented, studies have asserted its net positive impact in the rural areas. From reducing penury through providing off-season employment, and thereby improving household consumption among the invariably poor citizens who avail the scheme, to acting as insurance during monsoon deficient seasons, besides allowing for greater food security through increased productivity helped by the works generated, the scheme continues to be a robust welfare tool. This was even clearer during the pandemic, when thousands of migrant workers who left urban areas due to the lockdowns took up work under the MGNREGS in rural areas where demand for the menial but arduous work peaked. There is of course the case that the scheme has still not transcended into creating more useful assets beyond roads and irrigation canals and requires broadbasing and better implementation. But it must be said that the Union government’s treatment of the scheme has graduated from a case of lukewarm acceptance of its need because of its popular impact to treating it as a fiscal burden.

Such a reading can be justifiably made if the reduced allocation for the scheme in the Union Budget, from 2.14% of overall outlay in FY23 to 1.33% in FY24, is considered. This was despite implementation in recent years experiencing wage delays and underfunding. This has also depressed demand, with formal requests for work only being a portion of the actual demand. Also, there is much evidence that Aadhaar-based payments have neither reduced corruption nor reduced wage payment delays while creating hurdles for officials and workers during implementation. Union Rural Development Minister Giriraj Singh has now said that the Act should be amended to change the contribution of funds from 100% by the government to a 60-40 split between the Centre and the States in order to make States “more vigilant regarding corruption”. But this will only lead to further complications in funding. There has been a shrinking in the States’ share of taxes following GST and the financial stresses during the pandemic. States taking up 40% of the funding burden would affect the payment of wages even further. Besides, MGNREGS is a demand-driven programme and salient especially in poorer States and it is incumbent upon the Centre to ensure its robust funding instead of putting the onus on individual States to do so. The government must change its approach towards the MGNREGS by recognising its potential in catering to the poor’s right to work.

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