Daily Current Affairs 27.03.2023 ( Sarus crane turns albatross around U.P. man’s neck, . Fire breaks out at Brahmapuram plant again; officials deny cause for concern, Trains to ply on ‘world’s highest rail bridge’ in 2024: Minister, ‘AUKUS focus is on submarine tech., there is no room for a fourth nation’ , ISRO puts 36 OneWeb satellites into orbit, Making sense of the disqualification of a Lok Sabha MP )

Daily Current Affairs 27.03.2023 ( Sarus crane turns albatross around U.P. man’s neck, . Fire breaks out at Brahmapuram plant again; officials deny cause for concern, Trains to ply on ‘world’s highest rail bridge’ in 2024: Minister, ‘AUKUS focus is on submarine tech., there is no room for a fourth nation’ , ISRO puts 36 OneWeb satellites into orbit, Making sense of the disqualification of a Lok Sabha MP )


1. Sarus crane turns albatross around U.P. man’s neck

Winged companion: Samajwadi Party president Akhilesh Yadav with

Arif Khan and the rescued sarus crane in Amethi’s Mandka village. ANI

Forest department issues summons to Amethi resident Arif Khan who rescued the injured bird

Arif Khan, a resident of Uttar Pradesh’s Amethi district who had rescued a sarus crane and took care of it for a year, has received a notice from the State Forest Department.

According to the notice sent on Saturday by Gauriganj’s Assistant Forest Officer, Mr. Khan has been asked to appear before Sub-Divisional Forest Officer Ranvir Mishra at 11 a.m on April 4. He has also been booked under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.

On March 21, the Forest Department officials had visited Mr. Khan to relocate the bird from his home in Mandka village to Raebareli’s Samaspur Bird Sanctuary to “allow it to live in its natural environment”. The officials said they took the bird away with Mr. Khan’s consent and added that the avian species falls under the vulnerable category and cannot be “kept in captivity”.

According to Mr. Khan, he had found the bird lying injured in his field last year. “After treatment, I thought it would fly away. But it refused to leave us.”

In February, a video of the crane accompanying Mr. Khan to the fields took social media by storm.

‘Dictatorial attitude’

Reacting to the notice, Samajwadi Party (SP) chief Akhilesh Yadav, who had earlier visited Mr. Khan’s house to witness the bonding, criticised the BJP-led State government’s “dictatorial attitude”.

“Arif did a very good job by helping an injured sarus crane and treating it and saving its life. After this, the bird became his friend. Instead of honouring Arif, they [the government] are scaring him. After I went to meet Arif and the crane, those in power grew nervous. They want to scare Arif. It shows their dictatorial attitude,” the SP chief said.

Mr. Yadav also recalled that after he had tweeted a picture of an elephant walking unattended on the Agra-Lucknow expressway last year, the State police sent the mahout to jail.

2. Fire breaks out at Brahmapuram plant again; officials deny cause for concern

Second round: Fire force personnel trying to douse the fire that broke out at the Brahmapuram plant on Sunday.

Fresh fire broke out amid the heaps at the Brahmapuram waste treatment plant in Kochi on Sunday afternoon.

This time, the fire was reported at sector 7 in the waste heaps. The Fire and Rescue Services personnel, who were stationed at Brahmapuram after the March 2 blaze, quickly moved in to control the fire. The fire was under control and there was no room for concern, said a communication from the District Disaster Management Authority.

Fire and rescue units from Thrikkakara, Thripunithura, Pattimattom and Eloor have been pressed into action. The steps for extinguishing the fire began immediately after it was noticed.

Fire watchers were earlier deployed in the area. The administration was focusing on segregating the waste heaps using excavators and dousing the blaze, the communication said.

The fresh outbreak comes at a time when surveillance and fire monitoring have been stepped up in the area following the earlier blaze. The police were asked to look into the fire.

A high-level committee was also formed to look into the reasons for the massive fire.

The Kochi Corporation Council will meet on Monday for the presentation of the annual Budget. The two council meetings following the March 2 fire were disrupted after United Democratic Front councillors raised protests, demanding the resignation of Mayor M. Anilkumar.

The fire that broke out at the site on March 2 had lasted for 11 days, causing much hardship to the residents of the city and adjoining areas. The fire, which quickly spread across the waste dumped in an area of 40 acres, also spread panic. Smoke from the smouldering plastic waste had spread over a vast area. The health and environmental pollution issues had invited severe criticism.

3. Trains to ply on ‘world’s highest rail bridge’ in 2024: Minister

Scaling heights: Union Railways Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw inspecting the Chenab bridge in Reasi district on Sunday.PTI

Perched between two hill slopes, at a height similar to an 85-storey tower, the Chenab bridge, which India claims is the world’s highest railway bridge, will have trains plying on it by January-February 2024.

Railway Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw made the announcement during a site visit to monitor the progress of the construction on Sunday. The bridge is at a height of 359 m, making it taller than the Eiffel Tower in Paris, which stands at 330 m.

Traversing a length of 1.3 km, once operational, the Chenab bridge will pave the way for trains to run seamlessly along the Udhampur-Srinagar-Baramulla Rail Link (USBRL) project, and prove to be a crucial link between Kashmir and rest of India.

“The plan is to run Vande Bharat trains along the stretch and also Vande Metro trains between Jammu and Srinagar, which will reduce the travelling time between the two towns to 3.5 hours,” Mr. Vaishnaw said. Currently, the travel time by road on the 248- km Jammu-Srinagar National Highway is about seven hours.

While the construction of the bridge was completed in August 2022, a broad gauge railway track was laid along the bridge later in the year. Mr. Vaishnaw conducted a trolley inspection across the bridge and supervised the construction work on tunnels.

‘Survive an earthquake’

The Minister said the Chenab bridge had been constructed in a highly seismic prone area, and the biggest challenge was to get the concrete foundation design right. “ The foundation of the bridge has been built to sustain an earthquake [measuring] up to eight on the Richter scale,” he said.

About 28,000 tonnes of steel has been used to construct the arch bridge. Owing to the strong foundation of the bridge, which can absorb the shock, the superstructure of the bridge will be isolated from any potential impact.

In topographies where granite rocks are prevalent, constructing the foundation is easy. However, the presence of dolomite rocks and soft soil make the process tougher. “The Himalayas on the side of the J&K region are young and there is always a challenge of the soft soil slipping,” he said.

Another challenge was constructing tunnels along the USBRL project, 37 of them in all. While typically, tunnels are D-shaped, Himalayan tunnels need a horse-shoe shape of curvature, the elliptical shape helping ward off loose soil as the area is prone to frequent landslides, Mr. Vaishnaw said.

Ease of trade

Mr. Vaishnaw mentioned that an area in Badgaon district has been identified for building a train maintenance depot for the USBRL trains. Additionally, the construction of four cargo terminals has been planned in Baramulla, which will ease trade for Kashmiri products such as dry fruits, apples, handicrafts and clothing, including the expensive pashmina fabric.

The construction of Chenab bridge raised several questions on the environmental impact of the project along the course of Chenab river. “An impact study worth ₹3 crore has been commissioned to WAPCOS (a Jal Shakti Ministry-run public sector undertaking) for understanding how the course and flow of the Chenab river has been impacted,” Mr. Vaishnaw said.

While the project is being touted as the world’s highest rail bridge by India, it may lose the title to China, which is constructing the Daduhe railway bridge in Ludig along the Sichuan-Tibet Railway at a height of 380 m.

“While we cannot now change the height of an already constructed [Chenab] bridge, we can only aspire to build higher bridges in future,” Sanjay Gupta, Chairman and MD of the Konkan Railway Corporation Ltd., told The Hindu.

4. ‘AUKUS focus is on submarine tech., there is no room for a fourth nation’

The triad: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, U.S. President Joe Biden and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese meet as part of AUKUS, at Point Loma naval base in San Diego.

The primary focus of the AUKUS arrangement between Australia, the U.K. and the U.S. is submarine technology development, and within that there is no room for a fourth country, diplomatic sources said on any potential collaboration between the alliance and India.

There is a second pillar for broader technology cooperation where there is room for cooperation with other countries, including India, they said.

“AUKUS has one ambition. It’s one story, not two stories… The one angle of AUKUS is the submarine angle and there is a pillar-2 which is other capabilities. There has been an announcement on submarines and it’s big for everyone. It’s difficult to say that within that construct, there is room for a fourth country,” a diplomatic source said, and added, “It [submarine development] is about addressing and maintaining the strategic security balance in the Indo-Pacific.”

“There is a pillar-2 for cooperation in technologies like electronic warfare, cyberspace and quantum, and under that, there is a room for more partners,” the source said.

Recently, the three AUKUS partners announced their implementation plan to equip Australia with SSN class nuclear attack submarines.

Under this, Australia will receive at least three second-hand SSNs from the U.S. in the 2030s as an interim measure, and five new SSNs to be designed and developed by the U.K. from the early 2040s to the late 2050s.

Quad summit

In May, Australia will host the Quad leaders’ summit involving India, Australia, Japan and the U.S., where the recent implementation roadmap is expected to come up during discussions.

On the possible conversation between the AUKUS and the Quad, diplomatic sources said the former has no implications for the latter.

AUKUS is not a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) for the Indo-Pacific. Rather, it is focused on technology and is very specific about developing strategically important capabilities to maintain stability, a diplomatic source said. On the other hand, the Quad is a broader collaboration at the political level.

Official sources too stated that cooperation between India and the U.S. on such a sensitive technology as the SSN is unlikely, given the U.S. regulatory frameworks and India’s strategic autonomy.

India has its own indigenous programme for the design and development of SSNs, which will give the Indian Navy unlimited endurance underwater.

India is currently looking at procuring six advanced conventional submarines to arrest its depleting submarine strength, and also speeding up its SSN programme.

Engine development

Separately, both U.S. and the U.K. are in the race to co-develop a fighter jet engine with India and France. With the General Electric GE-414 engine having already been selected to power the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA)-MK2, the American government is currently considering an application from General Electric to license-manufacture the engine in India.

Making a strong pitch for the Rolls-Royce proposal at Aero India in February, the U.K.’s Minister for Defence Procurement Alex Chalk said the jet engine cooperation proposal put forward was the best “out there” and “most cost-effective” that “would set India apart”.

“What the U.K. is committed to is the our biggest ever capability transfer in our history. We would be providing more capability than to any other ally — a G-7 country, G-20 country or Five Eyes country,” he said.

5. ISRO puts 36 OneWeb satellites into orbit

Sky is not the limit: The LVM3 rocket carrying 36 satellites Iifts off from Sriharikota on Sunday. 

Agency uses its heaviest payload rocket, LVM3, for the mission from Sriharikota; in its sixth flight, the vehicle used the upgraded S200 motors with enhanced margins suitable for the upcoming Gaganyaan mission; with the successful launch, OneWeb completes its constellation of 618 satellites

With a roaring sound, LVM3, the heaviest payload rocket of the Indian Space Research Organisation carrying 36 OneWeb satellites on board, took off at 9.20 a.m. on Sunday from the second launch pad at the Satish Dhawan Space Centre here. The satellites separated successfully from the rocket and were dispensed in nine phases over an hour and 14 minutes, with signal acquisition on all 36 confirmed.

This is the second mission for Network Access Associates Ltd., U.K. (OneWeb Group Company) under a commercial agreement with NewSpace India Ltd. (NSIL) to launch 72 satellites into low-earth orbits (LEOs). The first set of 36 satellites was launched in the LVM3-M2/OneWeb India-1 mission on October 23, 2022. In the current mission, the 43.5-metre-tall vehicle weighing 643 tonnes was expected to place 36 OneWeb Gen-1 satellites totalling about 5,805 kg into a 450-km circular orbit with an inclination of 87.4 degrees. This is the sixth flight of LVM3. The rocket had five consecutive successful missions, including Chandrayaan-2.

“The first 16 satellites have already been placed in the right orbit,” Somanath S., Secretary, Department of Space, and Chairman, ISRO, said from the control room.

He said the mission had the upgraded S200 motors with enhanced margins suitable for the upcoming Gaganyaan mission and the motors performed very well. In the coming months, the space agency was looking at a PSLV commercial mission in April, another GSLV-Mk3 for Chandrayaan-3 and a GSLV-Mk2 mission.

Sunil Bharti Mittal, executive chairman of OneWeb and founder and chairman of Bharti Enterprises, in a Web call, said OneWeb is awaiting India’s space communication policy and the policy on spectrum allocation to launch its services here. “In my work, I have seen the power of connectivity bring benefits to all, wherever they are. Yet half the world’s population does not have access to fast, reliable connectivity. Today’s launch represents a major step towards closing the digital divide. OneWeb’s global constellation will play a pivotal role in realising this dream,” he said.

Radhakrishnan D., Chairman-cum-Managing Director, NSIL, said it looked forward to be associated with OneWeb not only in the area of providing launch solutions but also in other business endeavours. “This launch is a significant milestone for India to move towards benefiting from remarkable capabilities of LEO connectivity and the spread of space-based Internet. This will surely aid in addressing the issue of low fixed broadband penetration and bridge the digital divide in the country’s most remote areas,” said A.K. Bhatt, Director General, Indian Space Association.

OneWeb is a global communication network powered from space, enabling connectivity for governments, businesses, and communities. It is implementing a constellation of LEO satellites. India’s Bharti Enterprises serves as a major investor and shareholder in OneWeb. This is OneWeb’s 18th launch, its third this year, bringing its constellation to 618 satellites. This launch is a major milestone for the company, with the number of satellites now in orbit enabling global service, the first LEO operator to reach this milestone.

‘Hugely significant’

U.K. Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology Michelle Donelan said: “The completion of the LEO constellation is hugely significant both for OneWeb and the U.K.’s wider sector. We invested in OneWeb’s vision to bridge the global digital divide, and our burgeoning space sector is transforming the U.K. into the perfect base for like-minded companies to realise their stratospheric potential.”

6. New species of Moray eel named after Tamil Nadu

Researchers have discovered a new species of Moray eel at the Mudasalodai fish landing centre off the Cuddalore coast. The species has been named after Tamil Nadu as Gymnothorax tamilnaduensis. The common name is Tamil Nadu brown moray. The discovery has been published in the latest issue of the international peer-reviewed journal Zoosystematics and Evolution by researcher P. Kodeswaran; scientist G. Kantharajan; principal scientist T.T. Ajith Kumar, of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research-National Bureau of Fish Genetic Resources; Anil Mohapatra of the Estuarine Biology Regional Centre, Zoological Survey of India; and Uttam Kumar Sarkar of NBFGR.

7. EDITORIAL: 01 Making sense of the disqualification of a Lok Sabha MP

The conviction, on Thursday, March 23, 2023, of Congress leader and now former Member of Parliament from Wayanad Rahul Gandhi by a Chief Judicial Magistrate’s court in Surat, Gujarat, and the issuance of a notification the next day by the Lok Sabha Secretariat of Mr. Gandhi’s disqualification raise some important constitutional and legal issues. The legal community is mystified by the harshness of the sentence, which is unprecedented in a defamation case. The issue will anyway be dealt with by the appellate courts. But the issues relating to the disqualification need to be examined carefully.

Section 8 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 (RP Act) specifies the various offences, conviction for which entail the disqualification of a member of the legislature. Clause (3) of this section says that a person convicted of any offence other than those mentioned in the other two clauses, and sentenced to not less than two years shall be disqualified from the date of conviction. However, clause (4) has exempted sitting members from instant disqualification for three months to enable them to appeal against the conviction. This clause was struck down as ultra vires the Constitution by a two judge Bench of the Supreme Court on the ground that Parliament has no power to enact such an exemption for sitting members of the legislature (Lily Thomas vs Union of India, 2013). The effect of this judgment is that there is an instant disqualification of a sitting legislator as soon as he is convicted. However, the Court made it clear that in the event of the appellate Court staying the conviction and sentence, the disqualification will be lifted and the membership will be restored to him.

The role of the President

Section 8(3) of the RP Act which provides for disqualification on conviction has been subjected to judicial interpretation in a number of cases. A surface view of this provision is that the moment conviction and sentence are announced by the trial court, the member of the legislature will stand disqualified. Upon such disqualification, his seat in the legislature shall fall vacant under Article 101(3)(a). But a closer reading will reveal that the words “shall be disqualified” used therein cannot mean instant disqualification. If words like “shall stand disqualified” were used in this clause, they would have certainly meant instant disqualification without the intervention of any other authority.

The passive voice used in this clause implies that the person shall be disqualified by some authority. Who can that authority be? It cannot be the Secretary General of a House of Parliament or Secretary of a state legislature because the Constitution does not confer such power on them. Article 103 shows that the President of India is that authority who decides that a sitting member has become subject to disqualification in all cases which come under Article 102(1). Sub Clause (e) of this Article relates to all cases of disqualification under the RP Act 1951 which include disqualification on conviction and sentence under Section 8(3) of the Act.

There are differences of opinion on the scope of Article 103, which says that if any question arises as to whether any sitting Member has become subject to any of the disqualifications mentioned under Article 102(1), the question shall be referred to the President whose decision shall be final.

There is a view that this Article can be invoked only when a dispute arises on the fact of disqualification and not otherwise. But this Article covers disqualification arising on conviction for different offences under Section 8 of the RP Act 1951. In a case of conviction under this section, where is the question of disputes? This would mean that reference to the President of the question of disqualification of a sitting Member who has been convicted for an offence covered by Section 8 is a constitutional requirement. The Supreme Court, in Consumer Education and Research Society vs Union of India (2009), upholds this position. This judgment says that the President performs adjudicatory and declaratory functions here.

In cases where adjudication is not required, the President can simply declare that the sitting Member has become subject to disqualification. But the intervention of the President is essential under Article 103 even in cases where a sitting member has been convicted and the disqualification is supposed to take effect from the date of conviction. Section 8(3) of the RP Act does not say that in the case of a sitting Member, disqualification takes effect the moment the conviction is announced. The words “shall be disqualified” convey this sense.

The judgment in Lily Thomas has certain flaws. It says that Parliament cannot enact a temporary exemption in favour of sitting members of the Legislature. But Article 103 itself provides an exception in the case of sitting Members by stating that the disqualification of sitting Members shall be decided by the President. Thus, the Constitution itself makes a distinction between the candidates and sitting Members. This was ignored by the judgment and the Court struck down the three months window given to the sitting members to enable them to appeal against their conviction. Further, such a temporary exemption in favour of sitting members of the legislature is a reasonable requirement. They are not placed in the same situation as a candidate. A sudden disqualification will cause a lot of dislocation apart from the fact that the constituency will lose its representative.

Section 8(4) was enacted to deal with precisely such a situation. In the absence of a provision such as clause 4 of Section 8, the Lok Sabha Secretariat issued a notification on March 24, 2023 declaring that Mr. Gandhi stands disqualified. This notification has presumably been issued on the basis of the judgment in the Lily Thomas case. But Section 8 (3) uses the words “shall be disqualified” and does not specify which authority shall disqualify Mr. Gandhi. Therefore, the Lok Sabha Secretariat cannot perhaps declare him disqualified without referring the case to the President under Article 103 for a declaration, which is the normal procedure followed there. The authority to declare a sitting Member disqualified on the basis of the Court’s decision is not vested in the Lok Sabha Secretariat, either under the Constitution or the RP Act 1951. That power is vested in the President under Article 103. The sitting Member incurs disqualification on his being convicted and sentenced to two year imprisonment. But he “shall be disqualified” through a decision by the President. This appears to be the ratio of the Consumer Society Case (supra).

An issue to reflect on

The law on criminal defamation needs an urgent review. Many countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States have scrapped it. India’s neighbour Sri Lanka too has done away with it. It is indeed a surrealistic situation where senior political leaders get jailed for making humorous or off the cuff remarks in election speeches. In 1965, the Supreme Court had drawn the attention of the judicial system to the need for a liberal approach to rhetorical, hyperbolic or metaphoric words used by politicians in election speeches. The Court said, “… the atmosphere is usually surcharged with partisan feelings and emotions and the use of Hyperboles or exaggerated language or the adoption of metaphors and extravagance or expression in attacking one another are all part of the game. So when the question… is argued in the cold atmosphere of a judicial chamber some allowance must be made and impugned speeches must be construed in that light” — Kultar Singh vs Mukhtiar Singh (1965).

In our multi-party democracy, every political party is a potential ruling party. So, every political leader is exposed to the danger of being hauled up for defamation and put out of the electoral process for long years. People of mature democracies must be able to enjoy humour without any fear. People must learn to laugh at themselves. Otherwise, we will always be busy sending people to jail.

The law on criminal defamation needs review as every elected political person faces the danger of being put out of the electoral process for years

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