1. Centre yet to make its stand clear on Ram Setu petition
The statement by the Union government in Parliament that satellite imagery cannot provide “direct information” about the origin and age of the structure in the Ram Setu region comes even as a prolonged litigation initiated by former Rajya Sabha member Subramanian Swamy to declare the Ramu Setu a national heritage monument lies pending in the Supreme Court.
The hearing on this petition has been adjourned repeatedly because the government has not filed an affidavit making its stand clear on Mr. Swamy’s plea.
In the last hearing on November 10, a Bench led by Chief Justice of India D.Y. Chandrachud asked the government why it was “dragging its feet” even for filing an affidavit.
The government, interestingly, replied that the affidavit was ready but it was waiting for the approval of the Ministry concerned. The court’s four-week deadline since then to file it is over.
However, while the Centre came across as reluctant to show its cards on the issue in the Supreme Court, the verbatim debates on the Ram Setu in the Rajya Sabha indicate that satellite images had hardly helped pinpoint the nature of the structure.
“The history dates back to more than 18,000 years and if you go by history, that bridge was about 56 km long. Yes, to some extent, through space technology we have been able to discover pieces and islands, some kind of limestone shoals, which of course, can’t be accurately said to be remnants or parts of a bridge,” Union Minister Jitendra Singh said in the Rajya Sabha recently.
The Minister, though doubting the accuracy, acknowledged that there was a “certain amount of continuity in location through which some surmises can be drawn”.
“So, what I am trying to say in short is that it is difficult to actually pinpoint the exact structure that existed there, but there is some kind of an indication, direct or indirect, that those structures have existed,” the Minister left the debate open.
2. Parliamentary panel pulls up govt. for failure to create Tourism Council
Snail’s pace: Progress rates have been less than expected in the Hazratbal project in Jammu and Kashmir and infrastructure development in Puri in Odisha. NISSAR AHMAD
House committee also asks what steps were taken on the recommendation of including tourism on the Concurrent List as it will help the pandemic-hit sector and why some States are yet to accord industry status to hospitality projects
Merely drafting a National Tourism Policy is not enough for the development of the tourism sector in the country, a parliamentary committee has said.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture has suggested fast-tracking the creation of a National Tourism Council on the lines of the GST Council to directly make recommendations to the Union and the State governments.
Observing that “Vision without action is a daydream, and action without a vision is a nightmare”, the panel sought to know from the government the action taken for the creation of the Tourism Council after the inter-ministerial consultations.
The committee also sought to know the steps taken by the Tourism Ministry regarding its earlier recommendation of including tourism on the Concurrent List.
“Inclusion of tourism on the Concurrent List will help in simplifying the issues of the pandemic-hit Indian tourism sector since tourism is a multi-sectoral activity. The Ministry should inform the committee whether any action has been taken on the long-standing recommendation,” the committee said.
It also sought to know why some 20 States were yet to accord industry status to hospitality projects, and asked the Ministry whether anything in this regard has been conveyed by these States to the Centre.
As of now only eight States — Maharashtra, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Kerala, Karnataka, Punjab, Rajasthan and Uttarakhand — have accorded industry status to hospitality projects in their regions.
The committee also questioned the Centre over releasing a meagre ₹3.88 crore to Kerala for development of spiritual tourism as compared to ₹69.47 crore sanctioned.
It expressed concern that in projects sanctioned five years ago or before 2017-18, such as “Development at Hazratbal” in Jammu and Kashmir and “Infrastructure Development at Puri, Shree Jagannath Dham – Ramachandi – Prachi River front at Deuli under Mega Circuit” in Odisha, the progress rates achieved have been less than expected.
“Projects taking longer than five years may incur high cost and schedule or time overruns, which will put extra financial burden and resource crunch on the Ministry and implementing agencies involved,” it further said.
3. EC to begin delimitation exercise in Assam, to use Census figures of 2001
Mandatory operation: During the exercise, the commission will keep in mind the physical features, existing boundaries of administrative units, facility of communication, public convenience. File photo
There will be a ban on the creation of new administrative units from January 1 till the completion of the readjustment process; State has 14 Lok Sabha, 126 Assembly and seven Rajya Sabha seats
The Election Commission on Tuesday said it would begin the delimitation exercise of Assembly and Lok Sabha constituencies in Assam.
The Census figures of 2001 would be used for the delimitation process.
Chief Election Commissioner Rajiv Kumar and Election Commissioners Anup Chandra Pandey and Arun Goel have directed the Chief Electoral Officer of Assam to take up the matter with the State government to issue a complete ban on the creation of new administrative units from January 1, the EC said in a statement.
The term of the current Assam Legislative Assembly will end on May 20, 2026. The State has 14 Lok Sabha, 126 Assembly and seven Rajya Sabha seats.
The commission added that the delimitation exercise was being carried out following a request from the Ministry of Law and Justice in November. It would be carried out as per Section 8A of the Representation of the People Act, 1950.
“As mandated under Article 170 of the Constitution, Census figures of 2001 shall be used for readjustment of parliamentary and Assembly constituencies in the State. Reservation of seats for SC and ST will be provided as per Articles 330 and 332 of the Constitution of India,” it said.
The entire guidelines and methodology for the delimitation process would be designed and finalised by the Election Commission itself. During the exercise, the commission will keep in mind the physical features, existing boundaries of administrative units, facility of communication, and public convenience.
Once a draft proposal for the delimitation of constituencies is finalised by the commission, it will be published in the Central and State gazettes for inviting suggestions or objections from the general public.
“In this regard, a notice will also be published in two vernacular newspapers of the State specifying the date and venue for public sittings to be held in the State,” the commission said.
The last delimitation of constituencies in Assam was done based on the Census figures of 1971 by the then Delimitation Commission in 1976. The delimitation process in the four northeastern States of Assam, Nagaland, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh was deferred in 2008 due to security issues.
4. Editorial-1: Staying prepared India needs to scale up the pace of its genome sequencing
Three years after strict enforcement of its Zero-COVID strategy, China abandoned it abruptly, leading to a jump in cases each day — an estimated 250 million people were infected in 20 days in December, according to the media, overwhelming hospitals and crematoria. Based on 30 genome sequences deposited between October and December and 14 genome sequences in December alone from China, the BF.7 appears to be the dominant variant. Though this variant was found in many countries, including India, months ago, there is fear that the uncontrolled spread of the virus in China may result in newer variants with an even higher transmissibility. For instance, the BF.7 sub-lineage with three additional immune escape mutations already seen in other variants has been found in some people arriving from China; these mutations may increase transmissibility further but will not increase disease severity. With a case surge in a few more countries, India has taken the right and proactive measures to be ready for any eventuality. With over 90% of the adult population already fully vaccinated by July this year, over one-fourth of adults also boosted, and a large percentage of the population also naturally infected, the chances of India witnessing large-scale deaths as seen during the second wave last year from existing variants are slim. In fact, given that a large percentage of the population enjoys hybrid immunity from vaccination and natural infection leading to all Omicron sub-lineages causing only a mild disease, the focus in India should not be on daily new infections but only on any increase in hospitalisations, particularly ICU admissions.
It is, therefore, not surprising that the Health Ministry has urged States to only ramp up genome sequencing (and not increase testing) to track new variants as the virus evolves by accumulating mutations. The pace of genome sequencing in India has to be scaled up soon after a dramatic slowdown this year. The Government in an effort to minimise the chances of the spread of new variants has introduced 2% random post-arrival sampling of international passengers and mandatory RT-PCR tests for arrivals from China and four other countries. The Ministry has also advised States to ensure uninterrupted supply of medical oxygen and conduct a drill in health facilities to ensure operational readiness. With seven COVID-19 vaccines, including the intranasal vaccine, manufactured using different vaccine platforms approved for use, India is vaccine self-sufficient. Besides homologous boosters, a couple of vaccines have got approval as a heterologous booster dose too. On the antiviral front, a Hyderabad-based company recently received WHO’s prequalification for a generic version of Pfizer’s COVID-19 oral antiviral drug, Paxlovid.
5. Editorial-2: A retelling of the Indian migrant worker’s plight
This year, International Migrants Day (observed annually on December 18) must be seen in the backdrop of unprecedented volatility that began in 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Besides this infectious disease outbreak, there were events such as the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, worsening poverty in the sub-Saharan region, and also climate change, resulting in large-scale migration.
Data on migration
According to the International Organization of Migration (IOM)’s World Migration Report 2022, there were 281 million international migrants globally in 2020, with nearly two-thirds being labour migrants. While there were 169 million labour migrants in 2019, the figure touched 164 million in 2020.
In the larger pool of migrants, South Asia’s share is nearly 40%; further, the South Asia-Gulf Migratory corridor is the world’s largest migrant corridor.
Long-term data on international migration show that “migration is not uniform across the world and is shaped by economic, geographic, demographic and other factors, resulting in distinct migration patterns, such as migration corridors developed over many years”.
Recently, there were the cases of around 300 Indian engineers from Tamil Nadu who were trafficked to Myanmar to work for a crypto-scam and nearly 20 Indian nurses trafficked to the United Arab Emirates for fake job offers. Both groups had migrated after a desperate “post COVID-19 job hunt”.
According to Kerala government data, some 1.7 million Keralites returned from abroad during the pandemic between June 2020 and June 2021; 1.5 million had suffered job losses. None of them had a proper plan to survive, and were staring at no jobs or self-employment opportunities in Kerala.
Unfortunately, despite India being the largest migrant-sending and remittance-receiving country, the welfare of Indian migrants abroad is hardly a priority for the Government and policymakers. It is a matter of serious concern that India has yet to have a tangible and comprehensive migration policy to ensure decent living and safe movement of migrants.
India manages or governs Indians migrating abroad using the Emigration Act, 1983. In the last 40 years, migration has witnessed sea changes. However, the Indian government has been silent on the issue of updating the Act.
The authorities have still to initiate discussions for the smooth passage of a robust Emigration Bill in Parliament.
In the winter session of Parliament, a document tabled shows that around nine million Indian migrants are working in the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) countries. Though some of the GCC states have passed reforms to safeguard the rights of migrants and to protect them from discrimination, the situation at the grass-roots level is a different story.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the existing exploitative nature of the Kafala system (a ‘sponsorship system that regulates the relationship between employers and migrant workers’) which has invariably resulted in the mass retrenchment of the labour force.
An Asian-led campaign
Presently, South Asian countries, including their civil society organisations, scholars and migrant activists are leading a ‘justice for wage theft’ campaign for the disbursement of the pending salary benefits and other related dues of labour.
The pandemic has resulted in unemployment, under-employment, a reduction in salaries, and, more importantly, in the non-payment of salaries, compensation and residual dues. It must be noted that rich employers in GCC nations who violate basic labour laws and refuse regular salaries and dues, are from different nationalities, including Indians.
The recurring problems that migrant labourers face are: irregular payment, poor working conditions, negation of labour rights, the absence of a proper grievance redress mechanisms, and access to a transparent judicial system. Irregular payment and non-payment of wages, and abuse at the workplace have been a long-term problem in the GCC countries. This has been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Countries such as the Philippines which have recorded the wage theft of their migrants are taking up the issue legally.
Focus on women workers
Attention needs to be focussed on the women migrant workforce, largely limited to GCC countries and also to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development countries to some extent. Interestingly, Indian nurses and care-givers have been working in the most volatile countries such as Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and Israel, and even remote Papua New Guinea.
Women workers venture to these countries using the services of recruiting agencies on account of major domestic problems. Therefore, the Government should comprehensively assess the situation of migrant women and create women-centric, rights-based policies.
Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic has rerouted global migration patterns, restructured migratory corridors, and exposed the untold vulnerabilities and miseries of international migrant labour.
The United Nations, through its non-binding resolution, “Global Compact for Safe, Orderly Migration and Regular Migration”, recognises the challenges migrant labour faces across the world. In this context, the Government of India has to revisit its policies in the post-pandemic migratory scenario by engaging all stakeholders and by passing the Emigration Bill 2021.