Topic 1 : Church of Saint Porphyrius
Why in news: An Israeli airstrike to a building adjacent to Gaza’s historic Church of Saint Porphyrius, belonging to the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, has caused extensive damage to the church.
- The church, located in the Zaytun Quarter of Gaza’s Old City, was first consecrated around 425 CE.
- The tomb of its namesake saint Porphyrius, is located in the church’s northeastern corner.
- Born in Thessaloniki, Greece in 347 CE, Saint Porphyrius was the bishop of Gaza from 395 CE to his death in 420 CE.
- He is known only through Vita Porphyrii, a vivid hagiography written by Mark the Deacon.
- As per the account, the saint Christianised the recalcitrant pagan city of Gaza and demolished all its temples.
- After becoming bishop, Porphyrius obtained a decree from the Roman Emperor Arcadius for the destruction of the pagan temples in 402 CE.
- After the Islamic conquest of the Levant in the first half of the 7th century CE, the church was converted into a mosque.
- It stayed a mosque for 500 years till it was reclaimed and rebuilt in the 12th century by some Crusaders.
- The last major renovations were made in 1856.
- The Church is architecturally very similar to Great Mosque of Gaza, formerly the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist.
- Today it is one of the three churches in Gaza, the other two being Holy Family Catholic Church on Zeitoun Street and the Gaza Baptist Church.Topic 2 : Visa Shopping
Why in news: The practice of ‘visa shopping’ has been gaining popularity in several Indian states, including Punjab, where travel companies often facilitate this setup for travellers.
What is visa shopping?
- Visa shopping refers to obtaining visas for countries that individuals may or may not visit during the granted visa period.
- This is because such visas can provide a gateway for people to enter their preferred countries, particularly in Europe, even if they have obtained a visa for another European nation.
- People who have no immediate plans to visit a specific country are also purchasing visas for such nations.
- This is to increase the chances of obtaining visas for countries of their choice in the future, given how the application process often takes a long time or has chances of rejection.
The Schengen Visa
- One popular example of this is the ‘Schengen Visa’, which allows them to explore many European countries without the need for separate visas.
- Through an agreement between European countries, the Schengen system was established in 1985.
- Under it, member countries form the Schengen area and people can travel freely between them without going through border controls.
- Once within the Schengen Area, travellers can move freely across more than 24 countries.
- The visa allows travellers to enter the region for short stays.
Legal issues involved in visa shopping
- This practice is not illegal if the traveller adheres to the norms and guidelines of the visa process and gets valid permission to stay in that country.
- Legal concerns arise if a person seeks a visa for a particular country but stays in another, or shows that his/her intentions were not to stay in that country but to only use it as an entry point.
Topic 3 : Invocation of Vienna Convention by India and Canada
Why in news: Amid the ongoing standoff between India and Canada, the Canadian government announced it has recalled 41 diplomats posted in India, and their family members.
What is the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations?
- The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961) is a United Nations treaty that set some common principles and terms on how countries must treat each other’s diplomatic representatives.
- It was signed by 61 countries in 1961.
- It puts forth a framework for diplomatic interactions between independent nations and aims to ensure the ‘development of friendly relations among nations’.
- To ensure friendly relations and maintain proper communication channels between countries.
- The principle of diplomatic immunity:
- One prominent example of such principles is that of diplomatic immunity.
- It’s the privilege of exemption from certain laws and taxes granted to diplomats by the country in which they are posted.
- It was framed so that diplomats can function without fear, threat or intimidation from the host country.
- Diplomatic immunity flows from two conventions, popularly called the Vienna Conventions:
- the 1961 Vienna Convention and
- the Convention on Consular Relations, 1963.
- Today, 193 countries have ratified the convention, meaning they agree it should be legally binding on them.
- Ratification means that a country should seek approval for the treaty on the domestic level and enact a law in their country to give effect to it.
- India ratified it through the Diplomatic Relations (Vienna Convention) Act of 1972.
1961 Vienna Convention and recalling diplomats
- Article 11 of the convention states that the receiving State may, at any time and without having to explain its decision, notify the sending State that the head of the mission or any member of the diplomatic staff of the mission is persona non grata or unwelcome.
- In any such case, the sending State shall either recall the person concerned or terminate his functions with the mission.
- If the sending State refuses or fails within a reasonable period to carry out its obligations here, that is if they refuse to recall their diplomats, the receiving State may refuse to recognise the person concerned as a member of the mission.
- In the absence of specific agreement as to the size of the mission, the receiving State may require that the size of a mission be kept within limits considered by it to be reasonable and normal.Topic 3 : Quote: Not all those who wander are lost
Where is the quote from?
- This quote is from JRR Tolkien’s massively popular epic fantasy series The Lord of the Rings.
- The relevant passage goes:
- All that is gold does not glitter/ Not all those who wander are lost/ The old that is strong does not wither/Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
Meaning of the quote:
- Tolkien uses symmetry of structure and the use of contrasting characteristics to write sentences that are instantly impactful.
- It means to change one’s point of view, so one can see that even low-profile, plain-looking people can be as solid and valuable as “gold”, and just because one is moving about, it doesn’t mean one is aimless and directionless.
Why wander if you are not lost?
- Wandering can teach people important lessons and help them grow not just as individuals, but as more productive members of society.
- One can wander out of curiosity, and see and learn new things about the world and its many different types of people.
- Observing people different from one can teach one empathy, a very important trait in an increasingly divided world.
- Wandering essentially involves stepping out of one’s comfort zone and dealing with uncertainty, and these can give one valuable tools to go through life.
- Encountering challenges and finding ways to deal with them on the spot can teach one self-reliance, problem-solving, and resilience, which sticking to a safe path cannot.
- In Indian culture too, leaving one’s home to wander in search of ‘gyan’ and enlightenment is an old tradition, with the most famous example being that of Gautam Buddha.
- Tolkein was not glorifying wandering for the sake of it.
- He clarifies the sentence as not all those who wander are lost.
- Wandering is productiveonly if one uses it to learn some lessons, or if it is in the quest of a definite goal.
- For example, a UPSC aspirant can often feel adrift, but their days in coaching institutes and hostels are being spent towards the goal of clearing the exam.
- If one wanders around aimlessly, with no plan, directions, or timeline in mind, it is possible one is simply frittering away one’s time.Topic 4 : A Relook at the Dam Safety Act
Why in news: Experts have cautioned that there is a need to relook at the Dam Safety Act of India.
- India has almost 6,000 large dams and about 80% of them are more than 25 years old and carry safety risks.
- A new Dam Safety Act (DSA) was passed in late 2021.
- Recently, a glacial lake outburst flood (GLOF) in North Sikkim’s South Lhonak Lake washed away one of the biggest hydropower projects in India, the Teesta III dam at Chungthang.
- Reports have since revealed there were no early warning systems, no risk assessment or preventive measures in place as required under the Act.
Provisions of the Act:
- The Dam Safety Act listed key responsibilities and mandated that national and State-level bodies be established for implementation.
- A National Committee on Dam Safety would oversee dam safety policies and regulations.
- A National Dam Safety Authority would be charged with implementation and resolving State-level disputes.
- The Chairman of the Central Water Commission (CWC) would head dam safety protocols at the national level.
- A State Committee on Dam Safety (SCDS) and State Dam Safety Organisation (SDSO) would be set up.
Obligations of the States:
- Provisions require States to:
- classify dams based on hazard risk,
- conduct regular inspections,
- create emergency action plans,
- institute emergency flood warning systems, and
- undertake safety reviews and period risk assessment studies.
- States were asked to report and record incidents of dam failures.
Is any action taken for failing to comply?
- Failure to comply with any provision of the Act is punishable with imprisonment and/or fines.
- If such obstruction or refusal to comply with directions results in loss of lives or imminent danger, the entity shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to two years.
- For example, the Sikkim High Court ordered the Gati Hydropower Project company to pay ₹70 lakh to two widowed mothers, for non-compliance with the Dam Safety Act.
- No reporting of failures:
- Until now, no statutory provision required systemic reporting of failures and no single agency was tasked with tracking this data.
- No data updates:
- The CWC keeps a record but the list is not updated regularly.
- Transparency issues:
- The DSA does not promote risk-based decision-making and fails to incentivise transparency.
- It is a pattern of neglect:
- The frequency and scale of such disasters reveal a pattern of neglect.
- It keeps happening regularly, people face disastrous consequences and these are called ‘natural disasters’.
- But there’s nothing natural about them.
- No periodic reviews:
- Periodic reviews are often not conducted or if they are, their findings are not easily available in the public domain.
- No standardization of failure analysis:
- The Act requires dam builders to conduct comprehensive dam safety evaluations, but there is no standardisation of how the failure is analysed and reported.
- Dam safety is a function of many parts:
- designing and constructing dams that adhere to safety margins,
- maintaining and operating them per guidelines,
- recording data in real-time in an accessible format,
- forecasting hazardous events and
- instituting emergency plans, etc.
- The Sikkim GLOF reveals poor compliance at all levels, from the dam’s design to the spillway capacity (which controls the release of water from a reservoir).
- Hazard risk fluctuates at the slightest touch, responding to climate change, urbanisation, and the way people/companies use water or where they are located.
- Periodic reviews are expected to bring forth fresh inundation maps and new rule curves (which determine the capacity of dam reservoirs), all of which contribute towards the safety of the downstream areas.
- Spillway capacity and other metrics should be reviewed every five years.
Topic 5 : Bidenomics
Why in news: The potential election outcome in the US could have far-reaching consequences, especially concerning ‘Bidenomics’—President Biden’s distinctive economic policy approach.
- 2024 is going to be a massively significant year for the global economy because it will witness elections in some of the biggest and most influential economies.
- These include India, Russia, the UK, the EU and the US.
- Together, the GDP of these countries is more than $54 trillion, that’s around 52% of the global GDP in 2023.
- Due to deep interconnections, these countries and their leaders would not only decide the course of their respective economies but also influence the shape of policymaking in other countries.
- From the global standpoint, the most important election within these could be the one in the US.
What is Bidenomics?
- In common parlance, Bidenomics is a term that is used to refer to any and every policy choice made by the Biden administration.
- But the term was not coined by Biden or his team even though they have adopted it over the years.
- Connection with Reaganomics:
- It is a reaction to the dominant way in which the US economy was structured, especially since 1981 when Republican President Ronald Reagan took office.
- Under Reagan/ Reaganomics, the idea was to provide tax cuts to the businesses in a bid to incentivise economic activity even as the role of the government in the economy was reduced.
- The hope was that the resultant benefits of lower taxes and faster economic growth will trickle down to the broader economy.
- This top-down approach made the rich richer without necessarily bringing about as much widespread prosperity as its proponents had promised.
- The sharp rise in inequality, be it of income or wealth in the ensuing decades is a damning indictment of this approach.
Relevance of Bidenomics:
- Biden’s loss could result in policy shock, both to the US and the global order because of two reasons.
- Radical departures during Trump’s tenure:
- Many of Trump’s policies were radical departures from the established US positions or the global consensus.
- For instance, under Trump, the US walked out of the Paris agreement on climate change.
- Similarly, Trump saw US trade deficits as necessarily bad, especially when they were against countries such as China that are increasingly challenging the US economic domination.
- This, in turn, dealt a huge blow to continued globalisation.
- More reversals expected:
- When Biden took charge, he unveiled his own version of a radical shift in economic policies called Bidenomics, that have since attempted to turn the clock back half a century.
- A Trump victory could lead to several reversals yet again.
- Radical departures during Trump’s tenure:
Pillars of Bidenomics
- Biden’s economic vision is centred around three key pillars:
- Making smart public investments in America
- Empowering and educating workers to grow the middle class
- Promoting competition to lower costs and help entrepreneurs and small businesses thrive
- In other words, Bidenomics involvespolicies that:
- improve US’s physical and digital infrastructure,
- reduce its trade dependence on rivals such as China,
- raise the living standards and opportunities available for the middle 40% and the bottom 50% of the US population and,
- boost job creation within its borders.
- To achieve these goals, the Biden administration has tweaked both the tax regime as well as its spending choices.
- On the one hand, it aimed to raise $737 billion via more and higher taxation
- On the other, it decided to make fresh spending worth $500 billion towards investments in clean energy and in reducing healthcare costs.
- It has also taken several steps to contain the concentration of economic powers in the hands of the few and tried to empower labour unions to safeguard labour rights.
Implications of Bidenomics:
- GDP growth and recovery:
- In terms of GDP growth, US has outperformed all the major developed countries.
- US economic growth level is just 1.4% below the pre-pandemic trend.
- The US economic recovery has been so robust that even a sharp and sudden increase in the interest rate by its central bank has not caused a recession that many had predicted.
- Unemployment rate:
- The unemployment rate has fallen sharply since Biden took charge and hit a historic low.
- The US economy continues to create millions of jobs at such a fast pace that there are two vacancies for every unemployed person in the economy.
- The only substantial downside is in terms of inflation, which spiked to its highest levels in four decades in 2022 in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war.
- High energy prices and supply bottlenecks exacerbated the ill-effects of excess money that the government pumped into the economy in a bid to revive it.
- Bidenomics aims to address the widening economic inequalities in the wake of so-called neoliberal policies that started with the Reagan presidency.
- But Bidenomics is not just about pure economics.
- Its motivation is not limited to just reducing inequality.
- It also aims to achieve key geopolitical goals such as countering US’s global rivals such as China.
- As a result, the US is opting for policies that may not only hurt its own poor (for example, it maintains high import tariff barriers in a bid to help its domestic producers and thwart China) but also the poorer nations, because it may keep them outside the ambit of the clean energy growth story.Topic 6 : Why did SC not allow same-sex marriage?
Why in news: Recently, a five-judge Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court, declined to legalise same-sex marriage, leaving it to Parliament to legislate on the subject.
- The Bench ruled that there is no fundamental right to marry, and the court cannot intervene.
- Though all five judges accepted that it was time to end discrimination against same-sex couples, they failed to reach a consensus on giving queer couples the status of a legally recognised “civil union,”
- A majority of three judges held that any legal status to such a union can only be through enacted law.
What did the petitioners want?
- Wide interpretation of Special Marriage Act:
- The petitioners had sought a ruling by which the Special Marriage Act (SMA), 1954, which provides for a civil marriage for couples who cannot marry under their personal law, should be interpreted as gender-neutral, thus allowing same-sex couples to marry under it.
- The SMA, they argued violated Articles 14, 15, 19, 21 and 25 by not allowing marriage between same-sex, gender non-conforming, LBGTQIA+ couples
- It sought the words “husband” and “wife” as well as any other gender-specific term to be substituted by the word “party” or “spouse”.
- Other rights:
- They also sought:
- joint adoption rights,
- nominee rights with respect to healthcare decisions,
- guarantee of their safety and security by the State, and
- directions to the Union and State governments, district and police authorities to provide protection to adult, consenting LGBTQIA+ couples from their families.
- They also sought:
Why did SC refuse to read down the SMA?
- The Court felt that if the SMA was held void for excluding same-sex couples, it would mean going back to a time when two persons of different castes and religions could not marry.
- It said that if it were to read down provisions of the SMA, meaning add or delete words, this would be venturing into the realm of the legislature.
- Government against the idea:
- Throughout the hearings, the government held that it was against same-sex marriage.
- It had also pointed out that judicial intervention would cause complete havoc with the delicate balance of personal laws.
- Remedies by the Court for Central government:
- The Court said the state may choose from a number of policy outcomes:
- They may make all marriage and family related laws gender-neutral
- They may create a separate SMA-like statute in gender-neutral terms
- They may pass an Act creating civil unions, or a domestic partnership legislation.
- The Court said the state may choose from a number of policy outcomes:
- Remedies by the Court for State government:
- Rather than the Union Government, the State legislatures take action and enact law or frameworks, in the absence of a central law.Topic 7 : Impact of Sikkim flood on hydel projects
Why in news: Recently, a sudden surge in the Teesta river washed away habitations in Sikkim, the Chungthang Dam, several bridges and parts of National Highway 10.
What triggered the floods?
- The floods in the Teesta river in Sikkim and West Bengal was triggered by a phenomenon called GLOF (Glacial Lake Outburst Flood).
- GLOF is a sudden release of water from a lake fed by glacier melt that has formed at the side, in front, within, beneath, or on the surface of a glacier.
- In case of the Sikkim floods, a large chunk of ice may have fallen from the glacier into the lake creating waves that toppled the moraine dam leading to a GLOF and causing severe flash floods downstream in the Teesta.
Status of hydel power projects:
- The 1,200 MW Teesta Stage III hydro power project located at Chungthang village in north Sikkim collapsed.
- The Chungthang dam, which has a majority stake of the State government under Sikkim Urja, has stopped generating electricity and has filed an insurance claim.
- After the floods, not only the Teesta Stage III hydro power project, but all the operational hydel power power projects on the Teesta river in Sikkim have practically become defunct.
- Electricity generation of about 1,806 MW from hydel power projects in Sikkim has come to a halt because of the floods.
- The Sikkim government is yet to quantify the extent of damage in monetary terms.
- The loss due to GLOF-triggered floods will be in thousands of crores and certainly higher than the Sikkim earthquake (2011), where the loss was estimated to be ₹7,425 crore.
- Activists and scientists are calling for a rethink on proposed hydel power projects.
- In the aftermath of the tragedy, the government should scrap the proposed Teesta IV project and review the upcoming Teesta VI project.
- The Sikkim government directed the State’s Vigilance Police to conduct a comprehensive inquiry into any criminal irregularities in the construction of Teesta III dam project and submit a report.