1. Why is Kerala protesting Supreme Court’s ESZ notification
Why is the notification controversial in the State? What were the earlier efforts of the State to draft ESZ notifications? How have the people of the State reacted to the directive?
Nearly 30% of Kerala is forested land and the Western Ghats occupies 48% of the State.
Kerala apprehends that the Supreme Court’s notification would adversely impact the interests of the State besides upsetting the lives of millions living near the protected areas.
As it occurred during the post Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) days, a section of the Church has openly come out against the notification.
The story so far: On July 7, the Kerala State Assembly unanimously passed a resolution urging the Central government to exclude the State’s human habitations, farmlands and public institutions from the purview of the Ecologically Sensitive Zones (ESZ), recently notified by the Supreme Court, to be set-up around all protected forests in the country. The Assembly also called upon the Centre to notify the zones by considering the State government’s proposals that marked the ESZ as zero around 10 protected areas of the State, urging the union government to enact laws for the purpose.
Why is the ESZ notification controversial in Kerala?
The June 3 directive by a three-judge Supreme Court Bench consisting of Justices L. Nageswara Rao, B. R. Gavai and Anirudha Bose to have a mandatory ecologically sensitive zones of minimum one kilometre measured from the demarcated boundary of every protected forest, including the national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, has stirred the hornet’s nest in Kerala where any regulatory mechanism on land and land use patterns would have political ramifications.
The Union Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change had notified the draft ecologically sensitive zones of 20 of the 23 protected areas in the State, while issuing the final notification of the Mathikettan Shola National Park way back in December 2020.
However, the draft notification of the Periyar National Park, also called as Periyar Tiger Reserve, is yet to be published though the State government had submitted the proposal earlier.
The State is yet to submit the draft ESZ of Karimpuzha Wildlife Sanctuary, the newest one in Kerala, located in Malappuram district.
What worries the State is the possible impact of the apex court’s order on its unique landscape. Nearly 30% of Kerala is forested land and the Western Ghats occupies 48% of the State.
Moreover, there is a network of lakes, canals, wetlands and the 590-kilometre-long coastline, which are all governed by a series of environmental conservation and protection legislations, leaving little space for its 3.5 crore population to occupy.
With an average population density of 900 persons per square kilometre, much higher than the national average, the demographic pressure on the available land is unusually high in the State, as noted by the State Assembly’s resolution.
The State Government apprehends that the Supreme Court’s notification may worsen the ground situation as it would adversely impact the interests of the State besides upsetting the lives of millions living near the protected areas.
How did the State’s earlier efforts to draft ESZ notifications go?
Earlier, while preparing the draft ESZ notifications for its protected areas including the Malabar, Idukki, Aralam, Kottiyoor, Shendurney and Wayanad wildlife sanctuaries, the State Government had taken care to exclude the areas with high population density, government and quasi-government institutions, and public institutions from the ambit of the notification.
The marking of the ESZ for the protected areas that shared the forest boundary with the neighbouring States was a peaceful affair as there were no human habitations in between.
However, the apex court’s recent order has changed the picture and forced the State government to re-look the ESZs of at least 10 protected areas which were earlier marked as zero.
What has been the reaction to the directive?
The apex court order comes a decade after the Western Ghats Ecology Expert Panel (WGEEP) report, aka Gadgil report, that had radically influenced the socio-political, economic and ecological narratives in the State. Though not to the level of the high-pitched public unrest and protests that the State witnessed during the days preceding the WGEEP report, the ESZ notification too has triggered state-wide protests. As it occurred during the post WGEEP days, a section of the Church has openly come out against the notification.
The Church groups have also demanded the recalling of the apex court order.
The Kerala Catholic Bishops’ Council, a powerful body catering to the special needs of the apostolate in the State, termed the apex court verdict as unfortunate as it feared that the order will upset the lives of thousands of settler farmers and people living on the forest fringes. The forum apprehended that the order will effectively turn four lakh acres around the 23 wildlife sanctuaries in the State into buffer zones, thus affecting around 1.5 lakh families.
Since June 3, both the ruling Left Front and the Opposition have observed hartals in the hilly districts of the State, protesting the Supreme Court directive.
What’s next for Kerala?
Kerala is pinning its hope on the Centre’s stand that it was willing to discuss its concerns with the State government. The State government has also decided to explore the option of approaching the Central Empowered Committee, as directed by the Supreme Court in its order, to convince the forum of the need to maintain zero ecologically sensitive zone in the areas of human habitation.
It may also approach the apex court seeking exemption from the one kilometre ecologically sensitive zone regime and to limit it to zero wherever required.
2. Navy decommissions Sindhudhvaj
The Kilo class submarine, acquired from Russia, had been in service for 35 years
The Navy’s Kilo class submarine INS Sindhudhvaj was decommissioned from service on Saturday at Visakhapatnam after 35 years in service. With this, the Navy now has 15 conventional submarines in service.
“The traditional ceremony was conducted at sunset, with an overcast sky adding to the solemnity of the occasion when the Decommissioning Pennant was lowered and the submarine was paid off after a glorious patrol of 35 years,” the Navy said in a statement on Sunday. The event was attended by 15 of the former Commanding Officers, including Commander S.P. Singh (Retd.), the Commissioning CO, and 26 Commissioning crew veterans.
The decommissioning of the submarine had been delayed by about a year.
“She had many a firsts to her credit, including operationalisation of the indigenised sonar USHUS, indigenised satellite communication system Rukmani and MSS, inertial navigation system and indigenised torpedo fire control system,” the Navy said. She also successfully undertook mating and personnel transfer with Deep Submergence Rescue Vessel and was the only submarine to be awarded Chief of Naval Staff (CNS) rolling trophy for Innovation by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, it stated.
Commissioned into the Navy in June 1987, Sindhudhvaj, was one of the 10 Kilo class submarines India acquired from Russia between 1986 and 2000. Of these, Sindhurakshak was lost in an accident in Mumbai harbour in August 2013, while Sindhuvir was transferred to Myanmar in 2020, making it the Southeast Asian nation’s first underwater platform.
The Navy’s sub-surface fleet now includes seven Russian Kilo class submarines, four German HDW submarines, four French Scorpene submarines and the indigenous nuclear ballistic missile submarine Arihant. The last two of the Scorpene class submarines are in various stages of trials and outfitting.
3. Editorial-1: A lacklustre presidential race in the making
Democrats and Republicans have to brace themselves for soul searching and painful decision-making before 2024
The American presidential election of 2024 promises to be a rare treat for all those interested in politics and political campaigning. Both Democrats and Republicans have to brace themselves not only for some soul searching but also for painful decisions. The conventional norm is that a sitting President is not challenged in the primaries should he choose to run for re-election. And the Democratic incumbent, Joseph Biden, has made it amply clear that he is running for re-election.
Which way the wind blows
But here is the problem: two thirds of Democrats in a recent poll do not want him to run; and 94% of Democrats under the age of 30 want someone besides Mr. Biden on the ticket. Only 26% in the survey conducted by The New York Times and Siena College want Mr. Biden in 2024. For those who are opposed to the President within the party, 33% cite his age (he is 79 years old) and 32% because of job performance.
Forget the polling among the Democrats. A Gallup Poll showed historic low approval ratings for Mr. Biden with 33% saying that he deserves to be re-elected and 67% opining otherwise. Worse, only 13% believe that the country is headed in the right direction with a whopping 77% saying that it is on the wrong path. Analysts have not forgotten to point out that Mr. Biden’s current standing is four points lower than the level of support for President Donald Trump in an April 2018 survey.
Mr. Biden’s sorry state of affairs in polls does not mean good news for the Republican Party or for Mr. Trump, who has expressed interest in contesting again in 2024. The New York Times/Siena College poll also shows that nearly 50% of Republican primary voters are not looking at Mr. Trump but a new candidate in the next presidential election. What would come as a jolt to the supporters of the 45th President (Mr. Trump) is that 64% of those under 35 years and 65% of those who are college educated are against the re-election of Mr. Trump.
In a Republican Party stack of hopefuls, Mr. Trump still leads the pack with the Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis coming in second; but other possibilities such as Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, the former Vice-President, Mike Pence, the former Governor of South Carolina, Nikki Haley, and the former Congressman and Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, all having support only in single digits. Mr. Trump is not only a problem for the Republican Party but also for himself, given the civil cases and potential criminal charges that the Justice Department could think about once the Congressional investigations into the January 6 rioting and instigation at Capitol Hill come to a close. Prominent Republicans may say that they are not glued to the television, but the committee investigating the riots has seen testimonies from former Trump aides of the potentially criminal role of the former President.
Biden versus Trump
Perhaps the only bright spot for Mr. Biden is that among registered voters he gets the better of Mr. Trump, but only narrowly — 44% to 41%; and his refrain that 92% of Democrats support him if he ran in 2024 is misleading. This 92% of Democrats would vote for him if his opponent was Donald Trump, the poll showed. The problem for the Democratic Party is how to get the Biden White House re-organised for a real showdown in 2024 with or without Mr. Trump. Mr. Biden is already being compared with the Presidency of Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) and the last thing the Democrats want is a bruising primary along the lines of the show put up by Senator Edward Kennedy in 1980 with delegates nearly coming to blows at the party convention.
Issue for the Republicans
The Republicans have a different problem: privately, it would seem that a good majority of the party conservatives and elders have no stomach for Mr. Trump and his antics; but very few of them seem to have the courage to tell the former President off. In fact, senior Republicans are hoping that Mr. Trump does not make his presidential announcement before the mid-terms of November 8, where the Grand Old Party is expected to make huge inroads in the House of Representatives and perhaps even take control of the Senate. The Republicans are banking on making the most of a perceived-to-be fumbling Biden presidency on the economy, fuel prices and inflation; rather than get side-tracked on re-runs of outrageous and bogus claims of fraud in the 2020 presidential election. The Republican Party wants a Biden focus for the midterms, not on Mr. Trump.
November 2024 might seem a long way off but certainly not for the two major parties that will be striving to hold themselves together in the face of internal challenges. Should President Biden suddenly decide not to run for re-election or face a primary challenge, it could be worse than a re-run of the Carter era, with Vice-President Kamala Harris not necessarily being the front runner. Right now her standing in the polls is as good or worse than that of her President; and not many Democrats will be convinced that she is a strong candidate.
It is not the revolving door presidency that scares the Republicans when they think of a return of Donald Trump to the White House. It is in a Republican Party Pool that will enable the former President to come away on top as it happened in 2016; or a miffed Mr. Trump running as an independent in case the party musters the courage to tell him to back down. In more ways than one, the showdown some 18 months down the line will be a turning point for both the Democrats and Republicans as they make a choice for the future of America; not continue with worn-out debates and conspiracy theories over winning and losing.