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23 May 2024 : Indian Express Editorial Analysis

1. The India-Iran reconnect

Topic: GS2 – International Relations – Bilateral Relations
Context:
  • The sudden death of Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter accident on May 20 adds another layer of complexity to an already volatile region.
  • The political landscape of the Middle East is fraught with tensions and ongoing conflicts, and the loss of Raisi exacerbates this instability.
  • However, it is important to note that in Iran, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei holds the ultimate authority over both domestic and foreign policies.
  • This hierarchical structure means that despite Raisi’s death, significant shifts in Iran’s strategic direction are unlikely. The continuity of Khamenei’s influence ensures a degree of policy stability, even amidst such unexpected changes in leadership.

Impact on India-Iran Relations:

Historical Context and Recent Developments

  • India’s relationship with Iran has been marked by a cautious approach, particularly in recent years. Iran has expressed disappointment over India’s reluctance to jeopardize its strategic and economic ties with the US and other Western nations in favor of deeper engagement with Tehran.
  • Additionally, Iran has observed with concern the strengthening of India’s relations with Israel and key Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
  • This dynamic was facilitated by the Abraham Accords of 2020, which normalized diplomatic relations between Israel and several Arab nations, and the formation of the I2U2 grouping in 2021, which includes India, Israel, the UAE, and the US.

US Strategy and India’s Role:

  • The US strategy aims to build a regional security architecture in West Asia and the Gulf that targets Iran as the main adversary. T
  • This coalition, with the US as a guarantor in the background, has included initiatives like the India-Middle East Economic Corridor (IMEC), announced at the G20 summit in 2023.
  • This project, bypassing Iran, connects India to West Asia and further to Israel. India’s participation in these initiatives aligns with the broader US strategy, reflecting a shift in regional alliances and priorities.
Revival of the Chabahar Project:

 Strategic Significance:

  • Despite the focus on the IMEC, the Chabahar port project, which aims to connect the Iranian port to Afghanistan and Central Asia, has been revived.
  • This revival is notable given the ongoing geopolitical shifts and the stalled progress of the IMEC.
  • The Chabahar project holds strategic importance for India, offering an alternative route to Afghanistan, bypassing Pakistan, which has consistently denied transit access.
  • This connectivity is crucial for India’s interests in Central Asia, especially given the deteriorating relations between Pakistan and the Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

US Sanctions and Diplomatic Challenges:

  • The latest agreement on Chabahar has faced a sharp reaction from the US, which has announced that it will not exempt this deal from sanctions on Iran.
  • This contrasts with the more accommodating US stance in 2016 when the project was first agreed upon under the US-backed Ghani regime in Afghanistan.
  • The current geopolitical context, with the US no longer interested in supporting the Taliban regime and aiming to project toughness on Iran, poses significant challenges for India.
  • Convincing the US to grant similar waivers as before will be difficult, especially in an election year where President Biden seeks to maintain a strong stance on Iran.
The Israel-Hamas Conflict and India’s Position:
  • The ongoing Israel-Hamas war has brought renewed attention to the Palestinian issue, complicating the regional dynamics further. India’s response to the conflict has been cautious, with limited commentary on the violence in Gaza.
  • However, the revival of the Chabahar project can be seen as a strategic move to balance India’s traditional support for the Palestinian cause with its growing ties with Israel.
  • This delicate balancing act reflects India’s broader strategy of maintaining its influence and interests in a rapidly changing regional landscape.

Conclusion:

  • The death of President Ebrahim Raisi introduces a new element of uncertainty in the Middle East, but Iran’s policies are likely to remain consistent under the Supreme Leader’s guidance.
  • For India, navigating this complex terrain requires balancing its strategic partnerships with the US, Israel, and Gulf states while maintaining its traditional ties with Iran.
  • The revival of the Chabahar project underscores India’s need to stay engaged in regional connectivity plans, despite the formidable diplomatic challenges posed by US sanctions and the broader geopolitical shifts in the region.
What Measures can India Adopt to Curtail Issues Related to Chabahar?
  • Multilateral Financing Mechanism: India could explore setting up a multilateral financing mechanism involving like-minded countries to fund the Chabahar project. This could involve countries like Russia, or even some European nations that have an interest in the International North-South Transport Corridor. A diverse group of investors could help insulate the project from the risks of unilateral sanctions or political pressures.
  • Regionalize the Project: Rather than being seen as a strictly bilateral India-Iran initiative, India could work towards regionalizing the Chabahar project. This could involve inviting regional players like the Central Asian nations to participate in the development and operation of the port. Their involvement could help mitigate concerns about Iran’s destabilizing influence and potentially ease tensions with these nations.
  • Green Shipping Corridor: India could position Chabahar as a pioneer in establishing a “Green Shipping Corridor” in the region. By implementing stringent environmental standards, adopting green technologies, and promoting sustainable practices, the port could attract international support and financing from institutions focused on environmental sustainability. This could help counter concerns about the ecological impact and garner broader backing.
  • Digital Silk Road: In addition to its physical connectivity objectives, India could leverage Chabahar to establish a “Digital Silk Road” in the region. This could involve developing digital infrastructure, promoting e-commerce, and enabling cross-border data flows along the INSTC. Such a digital component could attract investments from technology companies, diversifying the project’s stakeholders and reducing reliance on traditional players affected by geopolitical tensions.
  •  Soft Power Diplomacy: India could complement its economic efforts with soft power diplomacy in the region. This could involve cultural exchanges, educational partnerships, and people-to-people initiatives involving countries along the INSTC route. Such efforts could help build goodwill, foster understanding, and potentially ease geopolitical tensions that could impact the Chabahar project.
PYQ: What is the importance of developing Chabahar Port by India? (2017)

(a) India’s trade with African countries will enormously increase.

(b) India’s relations with oil-producing Arab countries will be strengthened.

(c) India will not depend on Pakistan for access to Afghanistan and Central Asia.

(d) Pakistan will facilitate and protect the installation of a gas pipeline between Iraq and India.

Ans: (c)

Practice Question:  Discuss the implications of the sudden death of Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi on the geopolitical dynamics of the Middle East and its potential impact on India’s strategic interests in the region. How should India navigate its diplomatic and economic engagements amidst this changing landscape, particularly with reference to the Chabahar port project and its relations with the US, Israel, and Gulf states? (250 words/15 m)

 

 

2. To whom the forests belong

Topic: GS3 – Environment – Conservation
Context:
  • The article is a congratulatory message to the 2022 batch of Indian Forest Service (IFS) trainee officers, highlighting the inclusion of 10 women officers as a symbol of progress.
  • It emphasizes the critical role of forest officers in environmental conservation, the urgency of addressing climate change, and the need to balance tradition with modernity.
  • The article also stresses the importance of updating training curricula to meet contemporary challenges, engaging with tribal communities, and adhering to constitutional values in their professional duties.

Who are the Forest Officers?

  • Forest officers are public servants employed by the Government for the administration and governance of forests across the territory of India.
  • All the States in India have formulated their own legislation for governing forests in their territory, with the Indian Forest Act, 1927 as the base (forests being a concurrent list subject under 7th Schedule).
  • The three primary acts which bestow power upon forest officers are:
    • Indian Forest Act, 1927.
    • The Wild Life (Protection) Act, 1972.
    • The Forest Conservation Act, 1980.
  • Forest staff’s primary responsibility is to safeguard valuable and limited resources such as endangered animals, trees, sand, boulders, minerals, and forest land. As a result, they face a constant and relentless onslaught.

Historical Context and Future Directions:

  • The history of the Indian Forest Service, tracing back to the Imperial Forest Service, reveals a legacy of exploitation during the British Raj.
  • The extensive hunting and exploitation of forest resources during this period starkly contrast with today’s conservation goals.
  • Modern IFS officers are tasked with shedding this colonial outlook, focusing instead on conserving natural resources and balancing tradition with modernity to benefit humanity.

The Role of the National Forest Academy:

  • The National Forest Academy has been instrumental in shaping the environmental conservation efforts in India.
  • The Supreme Court’s recent remarks underscore the critical importance of forests and environmental stewardship.
  • The Court emphasized that humans often overlook the vital role forests play in sustaining life on Earth, likening forests to the spirit that moves the earth.
  • This highlights the responsibility of forest officers to protect and nurture these invaluable natural resources.

Addressing Climate Change:

  • The Anthropocene Age, marked by human-induced changes, has brought about significant environmental challenges, including climate change.
  • The Supreme Court’s declaration that freedom from the adverse effects of climate change is a fundamental right under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution underscores the urgency of environmental conservation.
  • Forest officers play a crucial role in combating climate change by preserving and promoting forest health.

The Urgency of Biodiversity Conservation:

  • Conserving biodiversity and natural beauty is an urgent task crucial for safeguarding human life.
  • The legacy of forest officers like P. Srinivas, Sanjay Kumar Singh, and S. Manikandan, who sacrificed their lives in service, exemplifies the importance of this duty.
  • Their work serves as an inspiration and a call to action for current and future officers to continue their invaluable efforts in environmental conservation.

Updating the Curriculum for Climate Change:

  • Given the pressing issue of climate change, it is imperative to update the curriculum for forest officer trainees.
  • The rapid loss of forest resources globally demands innovative approaches to restoration and conservation.
  • Utilizing scientific and technological advancements, such as the Miyawaki method and artificial intelligence, can enhance afforestation efforts.
  • Tailoring these solutions to India’s diverse geographical conditions can significantly mitigate environmental degradation.

Balancing Tradition and Modernity:

  • The dual wheels of development—tradition and modernity—must be balanced to address current environmental challenges.
  • The exploitation of nature in pursuit of modernity has often led to environmental degradation.
  • Tribal communities, with their deep-rooted knowledge of nature’s laws, offer invaluable insights into sustainable living.
  • Embracing traditional wisdom alongside modern practices can foster an ecologically sustainable, ethically desirable, and socially just future.

Engaging with Tribal Communities:

  • Forest officers are encouraged to engage closely with tribal communities, learning from their sustainable practices and helping to elevate their living standards.
  • Building trust and cooperation with these communities can facilitate the propagation of good practices and inspire local children to join the Forest Services.
  • Ensuring tribal communities’ participation in development processes is crucial for inclusive and sustainable progress.

Conclusion:

  • As newly inducted officers, the real test lies ahead. Professional challenges will abound, and decisions must be guided by constitutional values and the interests of the Indian people.
  • Balancing conservation efforts with the advancement of community rights and interests is essential for fostering an eco-friendly and inclusive approach to forest management.
  • By embracing these principles, the new batch of IFS officers can contribute significantly to the sustainable management and conservation of India’s forest resources.
What are the Concerns Associated with Foresters’ Safety?
  • Conditional Armed Status of Forest Guards: Forest guards are not always unarmed. Depending on the state, they may be equipped with various weapons. However, due to uncertain law and order situations, especially in insurgency-affected regions, forest guards often face restrictions on carrying these weapons. In the case of Simlipal, which falls within the red corridor stretching from Chhattisgarh’s Indravati to Bihar’s Valmiki tiger reserves, forest staff had discontinued carrying guns for the same reason.
  • Limited Authority for Proactive Use of Weapons: Furthermore, forest officials do not possess the authority to proactively use their weapons. Like any other citizens, they are only entitled to exercise their right of private defense as outlined in Sections 96 to 106 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). This means they can use force, including weapons, only to protect themselves or others from imminent harm or danger.
  • Risks and Considerations of Carrying Firearms: Weapons can indeed pose a risk even in situations without the presence of insurgents as there are certain challenges (potential accidents or misuse of weapons) and considerations that arise when it comes to carrying and using firearms.
  • Wildlife-Human Conflict: Foresters often encounter conflicts between wildlife and human populations. This includes instances of crop raiding by animals, attacks on humans by wild animals, and encroachment of forest habitats by human settlements.
  • Lack of Manpower: Forest establishments in India tend to prioritise cumbersome bureaucratic processes and administrative matters over the welfare and support of the frontline workforce. This can be problematic as it creates a situation where there are too many vacant positions within forest departments across the country. As a result, there are insufficient numbers of personnel on the ground to effectively protect the forests and ensure their own safety.
  • Lack of Effective Defense: According to the International Ranger Federation, a total of 31 forest field staff members lost their lives while on duty in India in 2021. Out of these cases, only 8 were classified as homicides and the rest were attributed to factors like forest fires, elephant/rhino attacks and motor accidents. In some instances, the casualties occurred not because they were unarmed, but because they did not know how to fire their weapons.
Practice Question:  Discuss the challenges and responsibilities faced by the Indian Forest Service (IFS) officers in the context of climate change and environmental conservation. How can the integration of traditional knowledge and modern scientific methods enhance their effectiveness? (250 words/15 m)

 

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