— The development marked a significant milestone in the growing defence ties between the two countries. The project is among the biggest Indian grant-in-aid projects in Maldives. The UTF project was announced during External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar’s visit in February 2021.
— Aside from launching this project, India also gifted the MNDF an additional landing craft during Singh’s three-day visit to the island nation. Both ministers also attended the ceremony for the commissioning of the replacement ship for the ageing Huravee.
What makes this project important?
— The project marked a major step in their growing defence cooperation between India and Maldives. In 2021, when Jaishankar and Didi had signed the agreement to “develop, support and maintain” the Coast Guard harbour in UTF atoll, the foreign minister had said that the facility will strengthen the capability of the Maldivian Coast Guard and facilitate regional humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts.
— The Coast Guard of Maldives is the armed maritime force of the Maldives National Defence Force (MNDF). Earlier this year, Maldivian foreign minister Abdulla Shahid had said in an interview that the development of this naval facility will help Maldives stop sending vessels abroad for maintenance while boosting its maritime security capabilities.
— He had said that the project, for which work was underway, is aimed at developing a maintenance and repair hub for naval vessels and that Maldivian personnel might also be trained as part of the project. As per officials, platforms gifted to Maldives earlier often were brought to India for repairs but the project will make the country self-sufficient.
Why did the project invite controversy in Maldives?
— Since the announcement of the project in 2021, there were allegations that it was a cover for Indian military presence in Maldives. This led to an “India Out” campaign in the island nation backed by its opposition leader Abdulla Yameen. Maldives President Ibrahim Solih last year banned anti-India protests as a threat to national security.
— Anti-India campaigners in Maldives had also alleged that Indian troops were stationed in a fast patrol vessel India recently gifted to Maldives Coast Guard, which was commissioned as CGS Huravee earlier this week—a claim refuted by Didi who said that the Indian crew was on the ship in Male only for training purposes, and that it would have only Maldivian personnel henceforth.
Why is Maldives important to India?
— India has had long standing ties with Maldives. In 1988, India helped Maldives thwart a coup attempt backed by a Sri Lankan militant organisation.
— The strategic location of Maldives in the Indian Ocean makes it important for India and that is the reason India has been working to boost ties with the country, especially in matters of defence and security.
— The island nation lies close to India’s exclusive economic zone and is in a place from where it can oversee maritime trade emanating from major choke points such as Strait of Hormuz, Red Sea to Suez Canal and Mozambique.
— Officials said having a friendly and independent Maldives is thus beneficial to India and other nations in the region with common maritime interests, particularly in the backdrop of growing Chinese attempts to expand its influence in the region.
Defence cooperation and other projects
— In 2020, India had gifted a Dornier aircraft to Maldives and in 2019 handed over a patrol vessel. Last year, New Delhi had also given a coastal radar system to Male. Last year, Modi had announced that India will provide 24 vehicles and a naval boat and will build police facilities on 61 islands of the country.
— A recent joint statement released by India and Maldives released after Defence Minister Singh’s visit to the country highlighted ongoing defence cooperation between the two neighbours, including joint exercises and exchanges of visits by military officials. It also highlighted the importance of sharing best practices and expertise in areas such as counter terrorism, disaster management, cyber security and maritime security.
— The countries have also agreed to explore additional avenues for cooperation, including in areas of defence trade, capacity building and joint exercises.
— The handing over of these vessels are in line with India’s vision of Security and Growth for All in the Region (SAGAR) that seeks to work together with and jointly develop the capabilities of friends and partners for a safe, secure, prosperous and stable Indian Ocean Region, the joint statement had said.
— Both the countries are working closely to address challenges, including those on maritime security, terrorism, radicalisation, piracy, trafficking, organised crime and natural disasters.
— In August last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Soli kickstarted the Greater Male Connectivity Project (GMCP)—a $500 million project financed by India—that would comprise a 6.74 km bridge and the causeway link connecting capital Male with the neighbouring islands.
— At the same time, both sides had signed a cyber security pact aimed at strengthening ties to tackle transnational crimes and terrorism in the Indian Ocean region.
(Source: Why the recent Maldives Coast Guard Harbour project is yet another milestone in India-Maldives ties? by Amrita Nayak Dutta )
Point to ponder: ‘India and Maldives have responsibility for regional peace and security.’ What is the relevance of this statement?
With reference to Maldives, consider the following statements:
1. Maldives and Lakshadweep is separated from each other by the ‘Ten Degree Channel’
2. The island nation lies close to India’s exclusive economic zone and is in a place from where it can oversee maritime trade emanating from major choke points such as Strait of Hormuz, Red Sea to Suez Canal and Mozambique.
Which of the above statements is/are correct?
(a) Only 1
(b) Only 2
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2
WHY IN NEWS?
— On Sunday morning (April 30), 11 people died due to a gas leak in the Giaspura area of Ludhiana, Punjab, while four people fell ill and were hospitalised. Any definitive reasons for the leak are not known so far.
— Surabhi Malik, the Deputy commissioner of Ludhiana, said a magisterial inquiry into the incident has been initiated. She said that according to the in the air quality sensors used by National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) team, high levels of Hydrogen Sulphide gas, a kind of neurotoxin, have been detected and it is being ascertained how this gas might have led to the incident. “It is likely that neurotoxins released might have caused deaths. We are studying the matter,” she said.
What happened in Ludhiana?
— The Giaspur area of Ludhiana has several factories and is a thickly-populated area. While the inquiry for the cause of the leak is on, it is suspected that poisonous gas may have emanated from a partially open manhole in the locality and spread to the shops and houses nearby, police said in an FIR. The autopsy reports suggested that the deaths were due to “inhalation poisoning”.
“The cause of death has come out as inhalation poisoning but the type of poison will be clear only after viscera examination. Hydrogen sulphide is so toxic that even one breath of it taken inside can kill a person. Probably some acidic waste was thrown into sewer which reacted with methane, carbon monoxide and other sewerage gases to produce hydrogen sulphide,” said Dr Charan Kamal, forensic expert at Civil Hospital, Ludhiana. The postmortem examination of 10 of the people who died was conducted at this hospital.
“There are several possibilities that may lead to high concentration of Hydrogen Sulphide. It indicates that the sewerage system was not cleaned properly, due to which the gas formation continued. There were no vents within the sewerage system to let the gasses escape,” said a senior Punjab Pollution Control Board official, requesting anonymity.
What are neurotoxins?
— Neurotoxins are poisonous substances which can directly affect the nervous system. Neurotoxicity occurs when exposure to natural or man-made toxic substances alters the normal activity of the nervous system. These substances can eventually disrupt or even kill neurons or nerve cells, which are important for transmitting and processing signals in the brain and other parts of the nervous system.
“They directly attack the respiratory tract of the body, thereby overpowering the oxygen concentration of the body and then the nervous system as well,” said Dr Sandeep Goyal, Medical Superintendent at the Dayanand Medical College and Hospital (DMCH) in Ludhiana.
What are neurotoxic gases?
— Methane, hydrogen sulphide, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide are common neurotoxic gases, said Dr Vitull Kumar Gupta, chairman of The Associations of Physicians of India in Malwa, Punjab. He added, “While methane and carbon monoxide are odourless gases, hydrogen sulphide has a pungent odour and in higher concentration it can be fatal for humans.”
— In the present case, the deputy commissioner has indicated that it is likely that a chemical might have reacted with methane gas that is naturally generated during the breakdown of human waste. Samples of sewage were taken from nearby manholes to assess this.
— To remove gases such as hydrogen sulphide from wastewater, chemical oxidation is done, where oxidants such as hydrogen peroxide are added to the wastewater.
What else you should know?
— A probe is on to ascertain the reason for the gas leak that claimed 11 lives on Sunday in Ludhiana’s Giaspura area. One thing, however, appears clear — the leak was precipitated by a chemical reaction in an open sewer. The FIR on the incident notes that “some people usually get rid of industrial waste by dumping it in sewage lines”.
— There can be no doubt that culpability for the gas leak must be fixed. But untreated waste getting into the city’s sewer network has been a longstanding concern for the city’s municipal authorities. Preliminary reports suggest that Sunday’s calamity could be linked to this problem.
— Giaspura has much in common with urban conurbations in several parts of the country where factories co-exist with residential buildings. Areas with such mixed land-use profiles require stringent pollution monitoring and well-maintained sewerage networks.
— But pipes and drains are in a poor state of upkeep in most parts of the country and pollution control bodies in the states rarely manage to do justice to their mandate. Unlike the Central Pollution Control Board, which has robust laboratories and specialised units, state pollution bodies do not offer a congenial environment for developing expertise. An assistant environmental engineer at a state pollution control board or a Grade B scientist has to monitor the implementation of every aspect of environment protection rules — biomedical and industrial waste, air and water pollution.
— In February, Union Minister of State for Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Ashwini Kumar Choubey, informed the Rajya Sabha that 49 per cent of the positions in SPCBs and pollution control committees are vacant. Last year, a Centre for Policy Research study of nine SPCBs — including that of Punjab — revealed that scientists, medical practitioners and academics constitute only seven per cent of the members of these boards while potential polluters, such as industries and public sector corporations, have a more than 50 per cent representation.
— Giaspura is the latest in a long list of waste-related calamities in the country. Last year, six people died after a tanker dumped toxic material in Surat. In March, a mountain of garbage caught fire in Kochi and spewed noxious gases for over a week. Delhi’s waste mounds have been a public health hazard for more than a decade.
— Dealing with such problems requires joining the dots with municipal governance, urban planning and environmental management. Unfortunately, Indian cities have rarely been up to this task. Giaspura is a reminder that the task cannot be postponed for long.
(Source: Ludhiana gas leak leads to 11 deaths: What are neurotoxins and how do they affect humans? by Raakhi Jagga)
Point to ponder: Ludhiana gas tragedy points to a longstanding problem with waste management in Indian cities. Discuss.
With reference to Neurotoxins, recently seen in news due to Ludhiana gas leak, consider the following statements:
1. Neurotoxins substances can eventually disrupt or even kill neurons or nerve cells, which are important for transmitting and processing signals in the brain and other parts of the nervous system.
2. Methane, hydrogen sulphide, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide are common neurotoxic gases.
Which of the statements above is/are not correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) 1 and 2 only
(d) Neither 1 nor 2
WHY IN NEWS?
— Violent clashes broke out at various places in Manipur during the course of a ‘Tribal Solidarity March’ called on Wednesday (May 3) by the All Tribal Students’ Union of Manipur (ATSUM). The Army and Assam Rifles carried out flag marches in the areas hit by the violence.
— Wednesday’s march was called to oppose the longstanding demand that the Meitei community be included in the list of the state’s Scheduled Tribes (ST), which received a boost from an order of the Manipur High Court last month.
— Both the demand and the order, passed by a single judge of the High Court, have been strongly opposed by groups representing the state’s tribal communities. The court’s order, released on April 14, asking the government to consider the demand, has brought the historical tensions between the valley-dwelling Meitei community and the state’s hill tribes to a boil.
Which are the major communities residing in Manipur?
— The Meiteis are the largest community in Manipur. There are 34 recognized tribes, which are broadly classified as ‘Any Kuki Tribes’ and ‘Any Naga Tribes’.
— The central valley in the state accounts for about 10% of the landmass of Manipur, and is home primarily to the Meitei and Meitei Pangals who constitute roughly 64.6% of the state’s population. The remaining 90% of the state’s geographical area comprises hills surrounding the valley, which are home to the recognized tribes, making up about 35.4% of the state’s population.
Why does the Meitei community want ST status?
— There has been an organised push in support of this demand for at least since 2012, led by the Scheduled Tribes Demand Committee of Manipur (STDCM).
— The recent plea before the Manipur High Court was by the Meetei (Meitei) Tribe Union, seeking directions to the Manipur government to submit a recommendation to the Union Ministry for Tribal Affairs for the inclusion of the Meetei/Meitei community in the list of Scheduled Tribes in the Indian Constitution, as a “tribe among tribes in Manipur”.
— In their plea before the High Court, the petitioners argued that the Meitei community was recognised as a tribe before the merger of the princely state of Manipur with the Union of India in 1949, and that it lost its identity as a tribe after the merger. It was argued in court that the demand for ST status arose from the need to “preserve” the community, and “and save the ancestral land, tradition, culture and language” of the Meiteis.
— In various pleas to the state and central governments, the STDCM has stated that as a result of being left out of the ST list, “the community has been victimised without any constitutional safeguards to date. The Meitein/Meetei have been gradually marginalised in their ancestral land. Their population which was 59% of the total population of Manipur in 1951 has now been reduced to 44% as per 2011 Census data”.
What did the Manipur High Court say?
— The court observed that “the petitioners and other Unions are fighting long years for inclusion of Meetei/Meitei community in the tribe list of Manipur”, and directed the government to submit its recommendation after considering the case of the petitioners, “preferably within a period of four weeks” of receipt of the order.
Why are tribal groups opposing this order?
— The demand for ST status for the Meitei community has long been opposed by the state’s tribal groups. One of the reasons cited for the opposition is the dominance of the Meiteis, both in population and in political representation, since 40 out of 60 Assembly constituencies of the state are in the valley.
—“The ST communities of Manipur have been consistently opposing to the inclusion of fearing the loss of job opportunities and other affirmative actions granted to STs by the Constitution of India to a much advanced community like the Meitei,” said Janghaolun Haokip of the Kuki Inpi Manipur, the apex body of Kuki tribes in the state.
— Other arguments against the demand have been that the Manipuri language of the Meiteis is included in the Eighth Schedule of the Constitution, and that sections of the Meitei community — which is predominantly Hindu — are already classified under Scheduled Castes (SC) or Other Backward Classes (OBC), and have access to the opportunities associated with that status.
— “The claim that Meiteis need ST status to protect their culture and identity is self-defeating. The Meiteis are a dominant group controlling the state and its apparatuses. The state has been protecting their cultural, political and economic rights. As such, their culture and identity are in no way endangered…,” wrote Thongkholal Haokip, Assistant Professor at JNU’s Centre for the Study of Law and Governance, in his paper ‘The Politics of Scheduled Tribe Status in Manipur’.
— “To the hill tribal people of Manipur, the demand for ST status is a ploy to attenuate the fervent political demands of the Kukis and Nagas, as well as a tacit strategy of the dominant valley dwellers to make inroads into the hill areas of the state,” Prof Haokip wrote.
Is this demand the only reason for the conflict rocking the state currently?
— In fact, unrest has been brewing among the hill tribes of the state for a number of reasons.
— In late April, Churachandpur witnessed violence after a mob attacked an open gym that was to be inaugurated by Chief Minister Biren Singh the following day. A major reason for the discontent has been the state government’s notices since August 2022 claiming that 38 villages in the Churachandpur-Khoupum Protected Forest area (in Churachandpur and Noney districts) are “illegal settlements” and its residents are “encroachers”. Following this, the government set out on an eviction drive which resulted in clashes.
— Kuki groups have claimed that the survey and eviction is a violation of Article 371C, which confers some administrative autonomy to the tribal-dominated hill areas of Manipur. CM Singh was reported to have claimed that the people living there “were encroaching reserved forests, protected forests and wildlife sanctuaries for poppy plantation and drugs business”
(Source: Behind the violence in Manipur: Longstanding tensions between hill and valley people, the Meitei demand for ST status, and a recent HC order by Sukrita Baruah)
Point to ponder: Kukis and Nagas point out that tribal areas are 90 per cent of state’s geographical area, but the bulk of its budget and development work is focused on the Meitei-dominated Imphal valley. Each of these groups has its aspirations and insecurities, and old grievances have been triggered by new developments. Comment.
Which of the following states does not touch the borders of Manipur?
WHY IN NEWS?
— An investigation published on Thursday (May 4) in The Indian Express revealed that more than half — 16 — of India’s 30 national sports federations do not have an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC), a legal requirement under the Prevention of Sexual Harassment (PoSH) Act, 2013.
— The government’s committee headed by boxer M C Mary Kom that looked into the allegations of the wrestlers who have been protesting at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi against Brij Bhushan Sharan Singh, the BJP MP who runs wrestling in India, has flagged the absence of the ICC at the Wrestling Federation of India (WFI) as a “major finding”.
What exactly is the law against sexual harassment of women at the workplace?
— The Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, commonly known as the PoSH Act, was passed in 2013. It defined sexual harassment, lay down the procedures for complaint and inquiry, and the action to be taken in cases of sexual harassment.
How did the PoSH Act come about?
— The 2013 law broadened and gave legislative backing to what are known as the Vishaka Guidelines, which were laid down by the Supreme Court in a judgment passed in 1997.
— The case in question was filed by women’s rights groups, including one called Vishaka, over the alleged gangrape of a social worker from Rajasthan named Bhanwari Devi. Bhanwari had fought against the marriage of a one-year-old baby girl in 1992, and had been allegedly gangraped as retribution.
— The Vishaka Guidelines defined sexual harassment and imposed three key obligations on institutions — prohibition, prevention, redress. The Supreme Court directed that they should establish a Complaints Committee, which would look into matters of sexual harassment of women at the workplace. The court made the guidelines legally binding.
What does the PoSH Act say about the complaints committee?
— The PoSH Act subsequently mandated that every employer must constitute an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) at each office or branch that had 10 or more employees. It defined various aspects of sexual harassment, and lay down procedures for action in case of a complaint.
— The aggrieved victim under the Act can be a woman “of any age whether employed [at the workplace] or not”, who “alleges to have been subjected to any act of sexual harassment”. In effect, the Act protects the rights of all women who are working or visiting any workplace, in any capacity.
What constitutes sexual harassment under the PoSH Act?
— Under the 2013 law, sexual harassment includes “any one or more” of the following “unwelcome acts or behaviour” committed directly or by implication:
- Physical contact and advances
- A demand or request for sexual favours
- Sexually coloured remarks
- Showing pornography
- Any other unwelcome physical, verbal or non-verbal conduct of sexual nature.
— A ‘Handbook on Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace’ published by the Ministry of Women & Child Development contains more detailed instances of behaviour that constitutes sexual harassment at the workplace. These circumstances include, broadly:
- Sexually suggestive remarks or innuendo; serious or repeated offensive remarks; inappropriate questions or remarks about a person’s sex life;
- Display of sexist or offensive pictures, posters, MMS, SMS, WhatsApp, or emails;
- Intimidation, threats, blackmail around sexual favours;
- Threats, intimidation or retaliation against an employee who speaks up about these;
- Unwelcome social invitations with sexual overtones, commonly seen as flirting; and
- Unwelcome sexual advances.
— The Handbook says “unwelcome behaviour” is experienced when the victim feels bad or powerless, and when it causes anger/ sadness or negative self-esteem. Unwelcome behaviour is “illegal, demeaning, invading, one-sided and power-based”.
— In addition, the PoSH Act mentions five circumstances that amount to sexual harassment:
- Implied or explicit promise of preferential treatment in her employment;
- Implied or explicit threat of detrimental treatment;
- Implied or explicit threat about the complainant’s present or future employment status;
- Interference with the complainant’s work or creating an offensive or hostile work environment;
- Humiliating treatment of the complainant that is likely to affect her health or safety.
What is the procedure for complaint under the Act?
— It is not compulsory for the aggrieved victim to file a complaint for the ICC to take action. The Act says that she “may” do so — and if she cannot, any member of the ICC “shall” render “all reasonable assistance” to her to complain in writing.
— If the woman cannot complain because of “physical or mental incapacity or death or otherwise”, her legal heir may do so.
— Under the Act, the complaint must be made “within three months from the date of the incident”. However, the ICC can “extend the time limit” if “it is satisfied that the circumstances were such which prevented the woman from filing a complaint within the said period”.
— The ICC “may”, before inquiry, and “at the request of the aggrieved woman, take steps to settle the matter between her and the respondent through conciliation” — provided that “no monetary settlement shall be made as a basis of conciliation”.
— The ICC may either forward the victim’s complaint to the police, or it can start an inquiry that has to be completed within 90 days. The ICC has powers similar to those of a civil court in respect of summoning and examining any person on oath, and requiring the discovery and production of documents.
— When the inquiry is completed, the ICC must provide a report of its findings to the employer within 10 days. The report must also be made available to both parties.
— The identity of the woman, respondent, witness, any information on the inquiry, recommendation and action taken, should not be made public.
What happens after the ICC has filed its report?
— If the allegations of sexual harassment are proved, the ICC will recommend to the employer to take action “in accordance with the provisions of the service rules” of the company. These may vary from company to company.
— The ICC may also recommend that the company deduct the salary of the person found guilty, “as it may consider appropriate”. The compensation is determined based on five aspects: suffering and emotional distress caused to the woman; loss in career opportunity; her medical expenses; income and financial status of the respondent; and the feasibility of such payment.
— If either the aggrieved woman or the respondent is not satisfied, they may appeal in court within 90 days.
What protection is available in the Act against a false complaint of sexual harassment?
— Section 14 of the Act deals with punishment for false or malicious complaint and false evidence.
— In such a case, the ICC “may recommend” to the employer that it take action against the woman, or the person who has made the complaint, in “accordance with the provisions of the service rules”.
— The Act, however, makes it clear that action cannot be taken for “mere inability” to “substantiate the complaint or provide adequate proof”.
(Source: The PoSH Act, and the procedure for complaint against sexual harassment at the workplace)
Point to ponder: ‘Not just wrestling, half of national sports federations don’t have sexual harassment panel mandated by law’. Comment.
With refernce to PoSH Act, consider the following statements:
1. The PoSH Act subsequently mandated that every employer must constitute an Internal Complaints Committee (ICC) at each office or branch that had 10 or more employees.
2. The Act protects the rights of all women who are working or visiting any workplace, in any capacity.
Which of the statements above is/are correct?
(a) Only 1
(b) Only 2
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2
ANSWERS TO MCQs: 1 (b), 2 (d), 3 (d), 4 (c)
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