Current Affairs (February 1- 2022)

Posted On : 2022-03-05 23:07:20

Current Affairs

February 1- 2022

The Hindu Coverage



  • India ranks third globally in forest area gain: Survey


  • Usha Sharma is Rajasthan Chief Secretary
  • Can striking down an exception create new offence: HC
  • The supreme failure
  • SC collegium recommends Bhandari for Chief Justice post
  • Burkina Faso suspended from AU following coup


  • Survey pegs growth at 8-8.5% in ’22-23
  • ‘Adopt UNCITRAL for cross­border insolvency’

India ranks third globally in forest area gain: Survey

  • India has increased its forest area in the past decade and ranks third globally in average annual net gain in forest area from 2010-2020, the Department of Economic Affairs said in the annual Economic Survey. India added an average of 2,66,000 hectares of additional forest area every year during the period.
  • Forests covered 24% of India’s total geographical area accounting for 2% of the world’s total forest area in 2020, the Survey said.
  • The top 10 countries account for 66% of the world’s forest area. Of these Brazil (59%), Peru (57%), Democratic Republic of Congo (56%) and Russia (50%) have half or more of their total geographical area under forests.
  • Among Indian States, Madhya Pradesh with 11% of India’s total forest cover, had the largest area under forests in 2021, followed by Arunachal Pradesh (9%), Chhattisgarh (8%), Odisha (7%) and Maharashtra (7%).
  • Mizoram (85%), Arunachal Pradesh (79%), Meghalaya (76%), Manipur (74%) and Nagaland (74%) were the top five States in terms of highest proportion of forest cover to the geographical area of the State in 2021.
  • “Much of India’s increase in forest cover from 2011-21 is attributed to enhancement in very dense forest cover, which rose by approximately 20% during the period.
  • Open forest cover also improved by 7% cent during the period. Going forward, there is need to further improve forest and tree cover. Social forestry could also play a significant role in this regard,” the Survey noted.
  • The biennial India State of Forest Report, made public this month, elicited criticism from independent experts who questioned the methodology employed to count forests, pointing out that most of the increase in forest cover from 2019-2021 was outside recorded forests and largely consisted of plantations and orchards.
  • Officials in the Environment Ministry in response to media queries said India’s definitions of ‘forest’ and ‘tree cover’ was consonant with global definitions. However, the government concurs that most of the increases in India’s forests have occurred outside areas traditionally marked as ‘forest’ and consists of plantations and orchards.

Usha Sharma is Rajasthan Chief Secretary

  • has been made an adviser to Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. Ms. Sharma is the second woman to hold the top bureaucratic post in the State.
  • Ms. Sharma, a 1985-batch IAS officer, has been on the Central deputation in New Delhi since 2012. She was the Secretary of the Sports and Youth Affairs Ministry and she earlier served as the Additional Director General of Tourism and Director General of Archaeological Survey of India.
  • The first woman Chief Secretary of Rajasthan was Kushal Singh, who served in that position from February 2009 to October 2009 during the Congress regime. She was appointed Chairperson of the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) in 2013 following her retirement.
  • Ms. Sharma was transferred to her parent cadre in Rajasthan by the Centre on the State government’s request on Sunday. She said after taking over the charge of office in the State Secretariat here that she would ensure public participation in the administration and resolve people’s grievances on priority.

Can striking down an exception create new offence: HC

(Theme: Transformative Nature of Indian Constitution)

  • The Delhi High Court on Monday asked if striking down the provision in Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which grants immunity to husbands against marital rape, as unconstitutional would lead to creating a new offence.
  • A Bench of Justices Rajeev Shakdher and C. Hari Shankar posted the query to advocate Karuna Nundy, who is representing two petitioners -- RIT Foundation and All India Democratic Women’s Association -- that are seeking to strike down the exception granted to husbands under the Indian rape law.
  • The Bench’s query came in view of arguments raised by some parties in the case that courts cannot create new offence. It asked Ms. Nundy whether there were precedents where courts had struck down a statutory provision even if it led to creation of a new offence.
  • The Bench elaborated that today if a wife files a complaint of rape against her husband and gets an FIR registered, the husband can move the court to strike it down. “Once she says he is her husband, there is no offence...,” the Bench remarked.
  • However, if the exception is struck down, the same relief is not available to the husband any more, the Bench said, adding, “So the question again is are we not creating an offence?”

The supreme failure

  • American lawyer James M. Beck described the U.S. Supreme Court as a lighthouse whose gracious rays of justice and liberty light up the troubled surface of the water, making America a free and strong nation. M. Jagannadha Rao, a former Indian Supreme Court judge, citing Beck, said that what is true of the American Supreme Court is equally true of the Indian Supreme Court. In the 73rd year of our Republic, it is time to put this belief to test especially in the wake of mounting majoritarianism and surging ethnocultural nationalism.
  • In the last few years, the Indian Supreme Court has delivered some judgments of far-reaching consequence. It declared the right to privacy a fundamental right; decriminalised consensual sexual conduct between adults of the same sex; recognised transgender persons as the third gender; and outlawed triple talaq. These decisions shore up the belief in republican values like liberty and equality reified in our Constitution.

Black marks

  • Notwithstanding these bright spots, there are several black marks on the Supreme Court’s record. The Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy has developed an excellent comprehensive tracker of all the pending cases before the five-judge, seven-judge, and nine-judge constitution benches of the Supreme Court. According to this tracker, there are 25 main cases pending before the five-judge constitution bench and five cases each pending before the seven-judge and nine-judge benches. These cases relate to significant constitutional and other legal matters that can have serious repercussions on the fundamental rights of ordinary citizens and our core republican values. Related to these main cases, there are more than 500 connected cases. These cases cannot be decided till the legal issues in the main cases before the constitutional benches are addressed. Some of the important cases gathering dust in the Supreme Court are as follows.
  • First, a deluge of petitions was filed before the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2019, that provides non-Muslim communities from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Afghanistan a fast-track route to Indian citizenship. More than two years later, the matter continues to languish in the apex court. Second, innumerable petitions have been filed challenging the Presidential Order of August 5, 2019 that effectually diluted Article 370 of the Constitution and split Jammu and Kashmir into two Union Territories. To date, the court has done precious little to decide this vexed question of law.
  • Third, petitions challenging the constitutionality of the Constitution (One Hundred and Third Amendment) Act,2019 that provides reservations in public educational institutions and government jobs for economically weaker sections are also languishing in the Supreme Court. It is shocking that the case has not been heard since August 5, 2020, while the law has already been implemented.
  • Fourth, a momentous case known as Vivek Narayan Sharma v. Union of India is in the Supreme Court for more than five years. This case relates to the legality of demonetisation of all ?500 and ?1,000 notes aimed at curbing black money. It was the most audacious economic experiment in the life of the Indian republic that went horribly wrong because more than 99% of the cash came back into the banking system, according to the Reserve Bank of India. Appallingly, the Supreme Court hasn’t heard this case since September 2, 2019.
  • Fifth, the Supreme Court has failed to accord proper hearing in the last four years to the constitutional challenge to the electoral bonds scheme. This scheme strikes at the heart of our polity because anonymous funding of political parties is the root cause of corruption in public life.

Constitutional duty

  • Granville Austin, a distinguished constitutional scholar, said, “the Supreme Court is …custodian of the equality under the law that lies at the heart of the country’s constitutional democracy. Unless the Court strives in every possible way to assure that the Constitution, the law, applies fairly to all citizens, the Court cannot be said to have fulfilled its custodial responsibility”. By abjectly failing to decide key constitutional cases in a time-bound manner, the Supreme Court has not acted as the “sentinel on the qui vive”. The Court should perform its constitutional duty of being a formidable counterforce to brute majoritarianism. The power of judicial review that the Chief Justice of India, N.V. Ramana, calls as critical to democracy should be exercised assiduously. Or else, India’s hard-fought constitutional democracy would be in grave peril.

SC collegium recommends Bhandari for Chief Justice post

  • The Supreme Court collegium has recommended the elevation of Madras High Court Acting Chief Justice (ACJ) Munishwar Nath Bhandari as its Chief Justice. He would take oath after the issuance of a Presidential notification.
  • ACJ Bhandari, hailing from Rajasthan, assumed office in the Madras High Court on November 22, following his transfer from Allahabad High Court, where he had served as its ACJ. At the time of his transfer, two senior judges, Justices Raghvendra Singh Chauhan and Mohammad Rafiq, from his parent High Court (Rajasthan), were already serving as Chief Justices.

Burkina Faso suspended from AU following coup

  • The African Union on Monday suspended Burkina Faso a week after the volatile country suffered its latest coup, as envoys from West Africa and the UN headed for talks with the new junta.
  • The AU’s 15-member Peace and Security Council said on Twitter it had voted “to suspend the participation of #BurkinaFaso in all AU activities until the effective restoration of constitutional order in the country”.
  • The move came three days after the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) suspended Burkina from its ranks and warned of possible sanctions pending the outcome of meetings with the junta.
  • They have previously suspended and enforced sanctions against two other members — Mali and Guinea — where coups have unfurled in the past 18 months.
  • Moussa Faki Mahamat, who chairs the AU’s Commission, had already condemned the coup on the day it happened.

Troubled country

  • On January 24, rebel soldiers detained president Roch Marc Christian Kabore amid rising public anger at his failure to stem jihadist violence ravaging the impoverished nation.
  • They later released a handwritten letter in which he announced his resignation — a document that a member of his party said was authentic.
  • The junta has dissolved the government and parliament and suspended the constitution, vowing to re-establish “constitutional order” within a “reasonable time”.
  • The coup is the latest bout of turmoil to strike Burkina Faso, a landlocked state that has suffered chronic instability since gaining independence from France in 1960.
  • Mr. Kabore was elected in 2015 following a popular revolt that forced out strongman Blaise Compaore.
  • Compaore himself had seized power in 1987 during a coup in which the country’s revolutionary leader, Thomas Sankara, was gunned down.
  • He was re-elected in 2020, but the following year faced a wave of anger over his handling of a jihadist insurgency that has swept in from neighbouring Mali.
  • Since 2015, more than 2,000 people have died, according to an AFP toll, while the country’s emergency agency says a million and a half people, in a population of 21 million, have fled their homes.

Survey pegs growth at 8-8.5% in ’22-23

  • The Economic Survey for 2021-22, tabled by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in the Lok Sabha, expects the GDP to grow by 9.2% this year and 8% to 8.5% in 2022-23, even as it expressed concerns about the implications of hardening inflation and energy prices.
  • “Growth in 2022-23 will be supported by widespread vaccine coverage, gains from supply-side reforms and easing of regulations, robust export growth, and availability of fiscal space to ramp up capital spending. The year ahead is also well poised for a pick-up in private sector investment with the financial system in a good position to provide support to the revival of the economy,” the Survey projected.
  • The Survey’s GDP growth estimate for the coming year assumes that ‘there will be no further debilitating pandemic related economic disruption, monsoon will be normal, withdrawal of global liquidity by major central banks will be broadly orderly, oil prices will be in the range of US$70-$75/bbl, and global supply chain disruptions will steadily ease over the course of the year’.
  • The Survey acknowledged the risks that have emerged at the time it was being written, such as the new COVID-19 variant, Omicron, sweeping across the world, inflation jumping up in most countries, and the cycle of liquidity withdrawal being initiated by major central banks.
  • It highlighted that the country’s macro-economic stability indicators on the external front, fiscal front as well as the financial sector health and inflation, were well-placed to take on the challenges of 2022-23. ‘One of the reasons’ for this comfortable position, the Survey argued, was the government’s unique response strategy that didn’t ‘pre-commit to a rigid response’ but ‘opted to use safety nets for vulnerable sections’ based on information.
  • While the 9.2% growth estimate for 2021-22 suggested a recovery above the pre-pandemic level of 2019-20, the Survey conceded that private consumption and segments such as travel, trade and hotels were yet to fully recover. “The stop-start nature of repeated pandemic waves makes it especially difficult for these sub-sectors to gather momentum,” it said.
  • “Latest advance estimates suggest full recovery of all components on the demand side in 2021-22 except for private consumption. When compared to pre-pandemic levels, recovery is most significant in exports followed by government consumption and gross fixed capital formation,” it noted.

Investment recovery

  • The country’s investment to GDP ratio had hit 29.6% in 2021-22, the highest level in seven years, the Survey explained, attributing this capital formation to the government’s policy thrust on quickening the ‘virtuous cycle of growth via capex and infrastructure spending’ had increased capital formation in the economy.
  • “While private investment recovery is still at a nascent stage, there are many signals which indicate that India is poised for stronger investment,” it observed, citing record corporate profits in recent quarters and high mobilisation of risk capital by firms.

Inflation, Current account worries

  • “Inflation has reappeared as a global issue in both advanced and emerging economies.... India does need to be wary of imported inflation, especially from elevated global energy prices,” it stated, even as it suggested that the double-digit wholesale price inflation in recent months would ‘even out’.
  • However, an equally strong recovery was seen in imports, rendering India’s net exports negative for the first half of the year, from a surplus in 2020-21. India has thus recorded a modest current account deficit of 0.2% in the first half, but robust capital flows in the form of continued inflow of foreign investment were sufficient to finance it, it pointed out.
  • “Elevated global commodity prices, revival in real economic activity driving higher domestic demand and growing uncertainty surrounding capital inflows may widen current account deficit further during the second half of the year. However, it is expected to be within manageable limits,” it said.
  • Taking on criticism that the ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat approach’ marks ‘a return to old school protectionism’, the Survey concluded that “... the focus on economic resilience is a pragmatic recognition of the vagaries of international supply chains’.

‘Adopt UNCITRAL for cross­border insolvency’

  • The Economic Survey 2021-22 has called for a standardised framework for Cross-Border insolvency as the Insolvency _amp; Bankruptcy Code (IBC) at present does not have a standard instrument to restructure the firms involving cross border jurisdictions leading to several issues.
  • The proposal to frame a robust cross border insolvency framework has already been highlighted in the report of the Insolvency Law Committee (ILC) which hadrecommended the adoption of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL) with certain modifications to make it suitable to the Indian context.
  • “In fact, UNCITRAL on Cross-Border Insolvency, 1997 has emerged as the most widely accepted legal framework to deal with cross-border insolvency issues,” the Survey said.
  • It provides a legislative framework that can be adopted by countries with modifications to suit the domestic context of the enacting jurisdiction.
  • It has been adopted by 49 countries until now, such as Singapore, the U.K., the U.S., South Africa and Korea. This law addresses the core issues of cross border insolvency cases with the help of four main principles which includes access, recognition, cooperation, and coordination.
  • It allows foreign professionals and creditors direct access to domestic courts and enables them to participate in and commence domestic insolvency proceedings against a debtor. It also allows recognition of foreign proceedings and enables courts to determine relief accordingly.
  • Besides, it provides a framework for cooperation between insolvency professionals and courts of countries and allows for coordination in the conduct of concurrent proceedings in different justifications.
  • Cross border insolvency signifies circumstances in which an insolvent debtor has assets and/or creditors in more than one country.
  • Typically, domestic laws prescribe procedures, for identifying and locating the debtors’ assets; calling in the assets and converting them into a monetary form; making distributions to creditors in accordance with the appropriate priority etc. for domestic creditors/debtors.
  • However, there are various insolvency cases in which corporations owes assets and liabilities in more than one country which has created the need for a cross border insolvency framework.
  • At present, the IBC provides for the domestic laws for the handling of an insolvent enterprise but not to restructure the firms involving cross border jurisdictions. “The problem of not having a cross border framework problem was also expressed by the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) in Mumbai in a cross-border insolvency case involving an Indian entity [Jet Airways],” the Survey said.
  • NCLT stated that while insolvency proceedings against the corporate debtor have already been initiated before a district court in Netherlands, “there is no provision and mechanism in the IBC, at this moment, to recognise the judgment of an insolvency court of any foreign nation. Thus, even if the judgment of foreign court is verified and found to be true, still, sans the relevant provision in the IBC, we cannot take this order on record.”
  • “The absence of a standardised cross border insolvency framework creates complexities and raises various issues such as the extent to which an insolvency administrator may obtain access to assets held in a foreign country,” the Survey said.
  • The other issue is priority of payments. Whether local creditors may have access to local assets before funds go to the foreign administration or not. Recognition of the claims of local creditors in a foreign administration is yet another issue. “Recognition and enforcement of local securities, taxation system over local assets where a foreign administrator is appointed,” the survey said.
  • Presently, while foreign creditors can make claims against a domestic company, the IBC currently does not allow for automatic recognition of any insolvency proceedings in other countries. Cross border insolvency is regulated by Section 234 and 235 of IBC. Section 234 empowers the Central government to enter into bilateral agreements with other countries to resolve situations about cross-border insolvency.
  • Further, the Adjudicating Authority can issue a letter of request to a court or an authority (under Section 235) competent to deal with a request for evidence or action in connection with insolvency proceedings under the Code in countries with the agreement (under Section 234).
  • “As can be seen, the current provisions under IBC are ad-hoc in nature and are susceptible to delay. Entering into mutual (reciprocal) agreements require individual long-drawn-out negotiations with each country,” the Survey pointed out. “This leads to uncertainty of outcomes of claims for creditors, debtors and other stakeholders as well,” it emphasised.