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Daily Current Affairs 28.01.2023(India sends notice to Pak. to amend 1960 Indus pact, Rise in waterbird count recorded in Kerala’s capital, cheetah project to bring in 12 big cats from South Africa, Current account deficit manageable: RBI Governor, Adherence to basic principles of the Constitution is what unifies India, Budget 2023-24 must balance electoral signalling with fiscal prudence, India’s groundwater governance is in better shape)

Daily Current Affairs 28.01.2023(India sends notice to Pak. to amend 1960 Indus pact, Rise in waterbird count recorded in Kerala’s capital, cheetah project to bring in 12 big cats from South Africa, Current account deficit manageable: RBI Governor, Adherence to basic principles of the Constitution is what unifies India, Budget 2023-24 must balance electoral signalling with fiscal prudence, India’s groundwater governance is in better shape)

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  1. India sends notice to Pak. to amend 1960 Indus pact

Islamabad approaches court of arbitration in The Hague raising concerns over two hydropower projects in J&K; Indian officials say it goes against the pre-existing channel of dispute resolution

India announced on Friday that it wants to modify the 62-year-old Indus Waters Treaty (IWT) with Pakistan, citing what it called Pakistan’s “intransigence” in resolving disputes over the Kishenganga and Ratle hydropower projects, both in Jammu and Kashmir.

India also protested Pakistan’s “unilateral” decision to approach a court of arbitration at The Hague.

Sources said the government had written to Pakistan on January 25, calling for modifications to the treaty as per Article XII (3) of the IWT that deals with the “final provisions” of the treaty. The first hearing of the Pakistani case at the Permanent Court of Arbitrage at The Hague in the Netherlands began on Friday, with India boycotting the court process.

The decision to issue notice to Pakistan, with a request for a response within 90 days, is a major step and could lead to the unravelling and renegotiation of the water-sharing treaty. The treaty is often seen as a rare example of India-Pakistan consensus, at a time when the two nations have snapped trade and cultural exchanges, and most bilateral talks.

The sources said Pakistan’s move to push the World Bank for a Court of Arbitration ran counter to the pre-existing channel of dispute resolution through a “neutral expert” appointed by the World Bank.

Indian officials said the “parallel processes” instead of a “graded mechanism” had led to a stalemate, adding that India was left with no choice but to demand that Pakistan come to the table to negotiate amendments to the treaty. Officials declined to comment on what modifications India wanted.

Sources said that the clarification of the dispute mechanism was at the top of the agenda for renegotiation, adding that new inter-governmental negotiations on the IWT would be an opportunity to incorporate the “lessons learned” since 1960.

“The initiation of two simultaneous processes on the same questions and the potential of their inconsistent or contradictory outcomes creates an unprecedented and legally untenable situation, which risks endangering IWT itself,” the sources said, adding that “Pakistan’s actions have adversely impinged on the provisions of IWT and their implementation, and forced India to issue an appropriate notice for modification of IWT.”

‘Diversionary move’

When asked, Pakistan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry (MFA) said that the Indian reports on the notice were “diversionary” and that the Court of Arbitration had been set up “under the relevant provisions of the IWT”.

“As we speak, a Court of Arbitration is holding its first hearing in The Hague on Pakistan’s objections to the Kishenganga and Ratle Hydroelectric Projects,” Pakistan’s MFA spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch told reporters on Friday.

The World Bank declined to comment on the latest move by India. However, a World Bank statement on its current position, given to The Hindu, said that the World Bank had acted as “mandated by the treaty and that the preservation of the IWT is one of its “highest priorities”.

In October 2022, the World Bank had appointed neutral expert Michael Lino, and another expert Sean Murphy, as Chairman of the Court of Arbitration, and convened meetings with Indian and Pakistani officials in November to “handover” the process.

Treaty crucial for peace, development

“The Treaty has been a profoundly important international agreement in support of peace and development for South Asia and has been hailed as one of the most successful transboundary water management treaties in the world,” the World Bank said. The Indus treaty, that divided up the six Himalayan rivers equally between India and Pakistan, allows India the unrestricted use of all water from the 3 eastern tributaries of the Indus river (Sutlej, Beas and Ravi) while Pakistan receives use of the western tributaries (Indus or Sindhu, Jhelum and Chenab).

Pakistan had first raised objections to India’s construction of the 330 MW Kishenganga hydroelectric project on the Jhelum river back in 2006, and then objected to plans to construct the 850 MW Ratle Hydroelectric Project on the Chenab river as well. Both India and Pakistan differred on whether the technical details of the hydel projects conformed with the treaty, given that the Jhelum and Chenab were part of the “western tributaries”.

Dispute resolution process

According to Article IX of the treaty that deals with the “Settlement of Differences and Disputes”, there are three possible steps to decide on objections raised by either side: working within the “Permanent Indus Commission” (PIC) of the Indian and Pakistani delegation of water experts that meet regularly; consulting a World Bank-appointed neutral expert: or setting up a court process to adjudicate the case through the World Bank and the Permanent Court of Arbitrage (PCA). However, while India has held that each step must be fully exhausted before both sides agree to moving on to the next step, Pakistan had moved on without waiting for India’s concurrence. The neutral expert last met with Indian and Pakistani negotiators in November 2022, while the Permanent Indus Water Commission last met in Delhi in May 2022, and is due to be held in Lahore this year.

2. Rise in waterbird count recorded in Kerala’s capital

 Safe haven: (from left) Common Greenshank, Black-capped Kingfisher and White Wagtail.

The Asian Waterbird Census (AWC) 2023 has recorded a 65% increase in waterbirds in Kerala’s Thiruvananthapuram district, albeit with a slight dip in the count of species. Instilling hope among nature lovers despite concerns posed by anthropogenic activities, the annual census that was jointly conducted by WWF-India and the social forestry wing of the Forest Department recently enumerated 5,396 birds belonging to 70 species from 11 sites spread across the district.

This was a considerable increase from the count of 3,270 birds belonging to 72 species recorded last year. Barring a slight decline that was observed in Poovar estuary and the Punchakkari-Vellayani wetland complex, all the other locations reported a trend of increasing population. However, the birders raised concerns on the quality of habitats across all the wetlands. Except Pazhanchira wetlands near Attingal, all the other wetlands have been facing multiple and severe threats from anthropogenic activities.

The Punchakkari-Vellayani wetland complex, regarded the birding hub of the capital city, has been experiencing threats in the form of solid waste dumping, shift from paddy cultivation to fertilizer-intensive vegetable cultivation, and noise pollution from crackers that are used by farmers to scare away birds. A growing trend of wedding and other photo shoots has also driven away birds from the area.

Nonetheless, the wetland is home to many bird species including migratory ones like Pacific Golden Plover, Western Yellow Wagtail, White Wagtail, Painted Stork, Eurasian Spoonbill, Wood Sandpiper and Grey-headed Lapwing. The team counted 1,419 birds belonging to 51 species on this location.

Shore birds such as Great Crested Terns, Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers, Kentish Plovers and Western Reef Herons were sighted in the Poovar estuary. The paddy field maintained by the Agriculture Department at Mosque Lane, Kesavadasapuram, reflected a disappointing picture with only few Wood and Green Sandpipers reported. The team visited the comparatively less disturbed Pazhanchira wetlands, near Attingal, and counted 1,298 birds belonging to 34 species.

The census found that the museum and zoo compound still remained a safe haven for the endangered Oriental Dater. A crowd of 22 Black-Crowned Night Herons and other waterbirds were also seen around the two large ponds there.

The Akkulam wetlands reported an increase in bird count. Species including the Bronze-winged Jacanas and Oriental Darters were seen there.

Whimbrels, Common Greenshank, Common Redshank, and Asian Openbills were the highlights from Kadinamkulam wetlands.

3. Cheetah project to bring in 12 big cats from South Africa

At long last: The cheetahs were expected to arrive last year but delayed as a final deal had been held up. 

Both countries sign a long-pending agreement that will allow for the translocation of 12 cheetahs to Madhya Pradesh’s Kuno National Park; SA to send more batches for the next 8-10 years

India and South Africa have finally signed a long-pending agreement to translocate 12 cheetahs to India, the Environment Ministry said in a statement on Friday.

The cheetahs will be transported to India by February-end and reintroduced at the Kuno National Park in Madhya Pradesh, where eight such cats were brought from Namibia in September last year under a similar agreement.

The initial batch of cheetahs from South Africa will be followed by transport of batches of 12 annually for the next “eight to 10 years”, the Ministry added.

“A batch of animals has been under quarantine and ready to travel. A team from India will go to South Africa, choose the animals to be brought and accompany them. In India, our enclosures to host the animals are ready,” S.P. Yadav, Director, National Tiger Conservation Authority, and a key official involved with the translocation project, told The Hindu.

“The Memorandum of Understanding on Reintroduction of Cheetah to India facilitates cooperation between the parties to establish a viable and secure cheetah population in India; promotes conservation and ensures that expertise is shared and exchanged, and capacity built, to promote cheetah conservation,” the Ministry said.

The cheetahs from South Africa were expected to arrive in India last year but were delayed as a final deal had been held up, The Hindu reported in August.

In December, the Press Trust of India reported that a dozen cheetahs quarantined in South Africa for more than four months “had lost their fitness” in their wait to be flown to the Kuno National Park. Eight cheetahs, including five females, were flown from Windhoek, Namibia to Gwalior, followed by a helicopter ride to the grasslands of Kuno Palpur last September. They were released into dedicated enclosures by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Thereafter, five of the cheetahs began hunting on their own and have largely adapted to the local environment.

4. Current account deficit manageable: RBI Governor

India’s current account deficit is “eminently manageable” and within the parameters of viability, Reserve Bank of India Governor Shaktikanta Das said at an event on Friday.

India’s average current account deficit stood at 3.3% of GDP for the first six months of 2022-23.

The net balance under services and remittances remains in a large surplus, partly offsetting the trade deficit, Mr. Das said at a conference in Dubai, according to a copy of the speech released by the central bank.

He added that slowing global demand was weighing on merchandise exports, though the country’s exports of services and remittances remained strong. While the global environment has turned hostile and uncertain, the Indian economy remains resilient, said Mr. Das, pointing to a strong financial system in the country and deleveraged corporate balance sheets.

Headline retail inflation has cooled in the past couple of months, but broadly remains high, having hovered at the upper end of the central bank’s tolerance band of 2%-6% for the better part of the year.

“Core inflation, however, remains sticky and elevated,” he said.

5. Editorial-1: Founding ideals

Adherence to basic principles of the Constitution is what unifies India

In her first and customary Republic Day address to the nation, President Draupadi Murmu reiterated the founding ideals of the Republic on the eve of the 74th anniversary of the adoption of its Constitution. As the first tribal woman to occupy the highest office in the country, the 15th President of India is emblematic of the Republic’s continuing journey of democracy, pluralism and empowerment of the weaker sections. The values of fraternity and democracy that its founding leaders etched into the genetic makeup of the modern nation were derived from the learnings of an ancient civilisation. Ms. Murmu underscored this quality of the Republic — the amalgamation of the old and the new, the traditional and the modern. A unified and unifying struggle against British imperialism, as the President noted, was “as much about winning Independence as about rediscovering our own ideals”. Ms. Murmu laid emphasis on the “essence of India” — which is profound and predictable at once. “We have succeeded… because so many creeds and so many languages have not divided us, they have only united us.” A commitment to this creed has sustained the modern nation, and the long and ancient civilisation that evolved and reformed over millennia.

It can be argued that the Republic is continuously in formation, as thoughts and ideas emerge. As new ambitions inspire the country, some foundational principles must remain the timeless codes for survival and success. Ms. Murmu’s address reiterated those, while celebrating India’s successes in various fields, particularly the economy. While noting India’s emergence as an influential leader in global affairs, she underscored the principles of Sarvodaya and Atmanirbhar Bharat — uplift of all, and self reliance — which are guiding the government as they have the earlier ones. Oppression and debilitating poverty continue to shackle vast sections, and India must constantly remember this fact, and certainly on occasions when it reflects on its progress. At various points, challenges to the ideals of the Constitution and the national movement arose in the form of political authoritarianism, sectarian extremism, and separatism, but India overcame them — a reason for satisfaction but also a call for constant vigil. Ms. Murmu’s reiteration of the founding principles of the Republic, and her reassurance to fellow citizens come at time when the sanctity of the Constitution is under attack. While debate about the Constitution is also part of the democracy it establishes, adherence to its basic principles is what unifies the people of India. Ms. Murmu made that point.

6. Editorial-2: Great expectations

Budget 2023-24 must balance electoral signalling with fiscal prudence

In the week ahead, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will present her fifth and this government’s last full-fledged Budget before the Lok Sabha election in 2024. Although some electoral overtures can be made in an interim Budget next year, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government will also be mindful of the flurry of State elections scheduled through 2023. Ms. Sitharaman has an unenviable task of balancing the pulls and pressures on fiscal resources amid multiple congregating headwinds, keeping one eye on creating a feel-good factor among voters and the other on demonstrating suitable resolve to address India’s twin deficit situation and steer growth. Buoyant tax revenues this year provide comfort on meeting the fiscal deficit target (6.4% of GDP). The Finance Minister will need to show a convincing glide path to the 4.5% of GDP target laid down for 2025-26, but the widening current account deficit is of more emergent concern. Goods trade deficit hit an all-time high in the second quarter of this year, with net exports being the biggest external ‘drag’ on demand since late 2012-13. Ms. Sitharaman will look to raise customs duties on non-critical goods to slash the import bill, while trying to ensure Indian producers do not lose out on integration opportunities with global value chains with prohibitive or inverted duty structures for inputs and intermediates.

The export engine that has driven India’s growth well recently is likely to flounder this year even if the recession in the western world is milder than anticipated. Growth will be lower than the 7% expected this year, and the challenge is to prevent it from slipping below 6%. The Budget will persist with the public capex push with private investments yet to recover across the board. A chunk of the residual resources shall be earmarked for higher rural and social welfare spends, including food and fertilizer subsidies as well as schemes such as MGNREGA and PM-KISAN. Defence spending plans will be closely watched as they tend to be pruned in recent pre-poll Budgets. Constituencies awaiting succour such as the working middle class would like a revision of the tax exemption limit (set at ₹2.5 lakh a year in 2014) and other sops to alleviate the impact of high inflation on spending power. The government has not played to this gallery much in its innings, perhaps because it is not a vociferous or cohesive interest group such as farmers and corporates. But with an uneven recovery in consumption holding back the investment cycle, putting money into people’s hands to spur spending and facilitating more job opportunities for the youth, would be the best bet for India to drive its growth amid a tumultuous world economy.

7. Editorial-3: India’s groundwater governance is in better shape

The government’s interventions for better and scientific management of the groundwater situation in India reflect the spirit of cooperative federalism in managing a precious resource.

Data show that India, with nearly 18% of the world’s population, occupies about 2.4% of the total geographical area and consumes 4% of total water resources. A World Bank report says that India is the largest groundwater user. A rapidly growing economy and population are straining the country’s groundwater resources.

As a vast country, India has distinct and varying hydro-geological settings. Groundwater is the backbone of India’s agriculture and drinking water security in rural and urban areas, meeting nearly 80% of the country’s drinking water and two-thirds of its irrigation needs. Groundwater is pivotal to India’s water security. The fact that the theme of UN World Water Day 2022 was ‘Groundwater, Making the Invisible Visible’ is a reflection of the importance given to the resource across the globe.

The central government is working to achieve the goal of sustainable groundwater management in collaboration with States and Union Territories. In this process, certain important deliverables have been identified that include a reduction in groundwater extraction to below 70%, increasing the network of groundwater observation wells, installing digital water level recorders for real-time monitoring, periodic monitoring of groundwater quality, aquifer mapping and data dissemination, having better regulation of groundwater extraction by industries, and promoting participatory groundwater management and even periodic groundwater resource assessment.

In May 2019, a much-needed step of policy reform was done under the leadership of the Prime Minister with the creation of Jal Shakti Ministry (a merger of the erstwhile Ministries of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation along with Drinking Water and Sanitation). This was to give impetus to the management of water resources with special focus on demand and supply management. Realising the importance of community participation, the Jal Shakti Abhiyan was launched subsequently to transform Jan Shakti into Jal Shakti through asset creation, rainwater harvesting (‘Catch the Rain’ campaign) and extensive awareness campaign.

A scientific approach

Initiatives have also been taken for the effective management and regulation of groundwater, examples being the Atal Bhujal Yojana (ABY) and the National Project on Aquifer Management (NAQUIM). With the goal of “participatory groundwater management”, ABY looks to inculcate behavioural change made possible by incentivisation. NAQUIM, which is nearing completion, envisages the mapping of sub-surface water bearing geological formations (aquifers) to help gather authentic data and enable informed decision-making. Around 24 lakh square kilometres of the country has been mapped from the available mappable area of nearly 25 lakh sq. km. A heli-borne based survey (state-of-the-art technology), has also been used along with traditional exploratory methods for rapid and accurate aquifer mapping. The remaining area is likely to be mapped by March 2023. Region-wise aquifer management plans are being prepared and shared with States.

There are around 65,025 monitoring stations in India, which include 7,885 automated stations. The numbers are set to go beyond 84,000; in this, the number of automated stations will rise to over 35,000, with a special focus on identified high groundwater extracting industrial and urban clusters and groundwater stressed regions. Besides other quality-related exercises, samples from fixed locations are obtained to check for the presence of heavy and trace metals. Dynamic groundwater assessments will be done annually now and a groundwater estimation committee formed to revise the assessment methodology. A software, ‘India-Groundwater Resource Estimation System (IN-GRES)’, has also been developed.

The completion of groundwater assessment in 2022 in about five months (against the two to three years) shows that a time-bound and scientific approach is being adopted to monitor precious water resources. The findings of the groundwater assessment also indicate a positive inclination in the management of groundwater.

According to the latest assessment, there has been a 3% reduction in the number of ‘overexploited’ groundwater units and a 4% increase in the number of ‘safe’ category units as compared to 2017. There was an improvement in groundwater conditions in 909 units. The assessment also showed a reduction in annual extraction (of about 9.53 billion cubic meters); the data for irrigation, industrial and domestic use, respectively, is 208.49 BCM, 3.64 BCM and 27.05 BCM. Overall extraction saw a declining trend, of about 3.25% since 2017.

Some of this success may be attributed to implementation of comprehensive groundwater guidelines in 2020 for regulation in various sectors and making the processes of issuing a no-objection certificate transparent and time-bound using a web-based application. The government’s interventions in enabling a positive impact on the overall groundwater scenario in India, reflect the spirit of cooperative federalism in managing this precious resource. That around 9.37 BCM of additional groundwater potential was created through artificial water conservation structures is an example of this impact.

Need for source sustainability

As one of the fastest growing economies, India will need adequate groundwater resources to manage anthropogenic pressures. It is important to ensure source sustainability to provide safe drinking water to all rural households by 2024, under the Jal Jeevan Mission.

Communities will have to manage their groundwater resources better with the help of various government agencies and non-governmental organisations. In the context of climate change, as uncertainties will increase with connection with groundwater resources, efforts must be made to find solutions that are essential for sustainable development. The groundwater resource assessment report 2022 shows a brighter future for groundwater situations in the country as the initiatives taken by various governments have begun yielding results. This is a new beginning and steps must be taken to make India a water surplus nation, thus fulfilling the objective of a key United Nations Sustainable Development Goal, of water for all.

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