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UPSC Essentials | Key terms of the past week with MCQs

— Many of the 24 conservation targets under discussion at the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15) aim to avoid past mistakes and improve on the world’s last set of conservation goals — the Aichi Biodiversity Targets that expired in 2020.

— No single country met all 20 Aichi Targets within its own borders, according to a September 2020 UN assessment.

— The Aichi Targets, adopted during the 2010 CBD summit in Nagoya, located in Japan’s Aichi prefecture, included goals such as reducing deforestation by at least half during the coming decade and curbing pollution so that it no longer harmed ecosystems.

— Many of the targets, however, included vague language and did not hold countries to a specific action, experts say.

— After parties adopted the Aichi Targets, they were expected to devise their own national biodiversity strategies that would mimic the goals laid out by Aichi.

— Nearly all parties created these strategies, but most were never fully implemented.

— The most notable Aichi objective — and one of the few to include a numerical goal — aimed to protect or conserve 17% of all land and inland waters and 10% of the ocean by the end of the decade.

— While some progress was made toward that goal, the world ultimately fell short. Today about 15% of the world’s land and 8% of ocean territories are under some form of protection, though the level of protection varies.

— About 10% of the targets saw no significant progress, the assessment found. Six of the targets, including the land and ocean conservation target, were deemed “partially achieved”.

“At a global level, none of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets were met or achieved, but we also know that some progress was made at the national level in a number of countries,” said Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, executive secretary of the CBD.

— In the end, Aichi was deemed a failure by the United Nations and the CBD secretariat called on parties to come up with another guiding document to direct conservation efforts through 2030 and beyond.

— A lack of clearly defined metrics by which to gauge progress made the Aichi goals tough to implement, experts say. “Aichi was made of aspirational targets, which was great for…enabling people to do a lot, but not great for communication,” said Basile van Havre, who is helping mediate negotiations on the new targets on behalf of the CBD.

— One of the reasons the world was able to meet the goal for conserving 17% of land areas globally, he said, was simply that the goal’s success could be defined by that single number.

“It’s important to have measurable targets,” he said. Monitoring and reporting success was also a big issue with Aichi. Countries largely failed to update others on the progress they were — or were not — making.

“A key priority for us … is the agreement on robust monitoring, planning, reporting and review framework,” said Hugo Schally, a biodiversity negotiator with the European Union. “Because that is what made the Aichi framework so ineffective, and that’s what generated these negotiation processes.”

— A lack of financing to help developing countries meet the Aichi goals was also an obstacle to their success — a point that has led negotiators to include financing plans within the draft being negotiated at the Montreal talks.

— The Global Environment Facility, the primary source of financing for international biodiversity protection, has collected around $5 billion from 29 countries for the funding period from 2022 to 2026.

— That is hardly enough to make up the $711 billion funding gap per year estimated by a 2019 assessment by several conservation institutes.

— The Aichi Targets also failed to garner buy-in from governments beyond the environmental ministers who brokered the deal. “We need the whole of government,” said the CBD’s Mrema. “It’s not the matter to be left to the ministries of environment alone. This is one of the lessons we’ve learned from the failure of the Aichi Biodiversity Targets.”

(Sources: cbd.int and Why have countries failed to meet their biodiversity goals? by Reuters)

1. MCQ

With reference to ‘Global Environment Facility’, which of the following statements is/are correct?

a) It serves as financial mechanism for ‘Convention on Biological Diversity’ and ‘United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’.

c) It is an agency under OECD to facilitate the transfer of technology and funds to underdeveloped countries with specific aim to protect their environment.

— Political parties garnered Rs 676.26 crore in the 23rd phase of the sale of electoral bonds (EBs) between November 11 and 15, ahead of the Assembly elections in Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh.

— As much as Rs 660.25 crore of EBs — 97.63 per cent of the bonds sold — were encashed by political parties at the New Delhi Main branch of State Bank of India, SBI said in its reply to the RTI application filed by Commodore Lokesh K Batra (Retd). SBI is the only bank authorised to issue EBs to political parties. SBI said EBs worth Rs 309.45 crore were sold by the Mumbai Main branch and Rs 222.40 crore by the New Delhi branch.

— With this, the total amount collected by parties through EBs has gone up to Rs 11,467 crore from various anonymous donors in 23 phases since 2018 when the Electoral Bond Scheme was introduced.

— Anonymous donors had given Rs 545 crore in the 22nd sale of EBs conducted between October 1 and 10, according to data available from SBI. Parties got Rs 1,221 crore in the last two months and Rs 389.50 crore in the previous sale in July this year.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

What are electoral bonds?

— Simply put, electoral bonds are a debt instrument through which anyone can donate money to political parties. Such bonds, which are sold in multiples of Rs 1,000, Rs 10,000, Rs 1 lakh, Rs 10 lakh, and Rs 1 crore, can be bought from authorised branches of the State Bank of India.

— As such, a donor is required to pay the amount — say Rs 10 lakh — via a cheque or a digital mechanism (cash is not allowed) to the authorised SBI branch. The donor can then give this bond (just one, if the denomination chosen is Rs 10 lakh, or 10, if the denomination is Rs 1 lakh) to the party or parties of their choice.

— The political parties can choose to encash such bonds within 15 days of receiving them and fund their electoral expenses. On the face of it, the process ensures that the name of the donor remains anonymous.

When were electoral bonds introduced and why?

— The central idea behind the electoral bonds scheme was to bring about transparency in electoral funding in India.

— In the Union Budget speech on February 1, 2017, then Finance Minister Arun Jaitley stated: “Even 70 years after Independence, the country has not been able to evolve a transparent method of funding political parties which is vital to the system of free and fair elections…Political parties continue to receive most of their funds through anonymous donations which are shown in cash. An effort, therefore, requires to be made to cleanse the system of political funding in India.”

— In response, he proposed two main changes. One, he reduced the amount of money that a political party could accept in cash from anonymous sources — from Rs 20,000 to Rs 2,000. Two, he announced the introduction of electoral bonds as a way to make such funding more transparent.

— Formally, these bonds were introduced in 2018.

Why have electoral bonds attracted criticism?

— The central criticism of the electoral bonds scheme is that it does the exact opposite of what it was meant to do: bring transparency to election funding.

— For example, critics argue that the anonymity of electoral bonds is only for the broader public and opposition parties. The fact that such bonds are sold via a government-owned bank (SBI) leaves the door open for the government to know exactly who is funding its opponents. This, in turn, allows the possibility for the government of the day to either extort money, especially from the big companies, or victimise them for not funding the ruling party — either way providing an unfair advantage to the party in power.

— Further, one of the arguments for introducing electoral bonds was to allow common people to easily fund political parties of their choice but more than 90% of the bonds have been of the highest denomination (Rs 1 crore).

— Moreover, before the electoral bonds scheme was announced, there was a cap on how much a company could donate to a political party: 7.5 per cent of the average net profits of a company in the preceding three years. However, the government amended the Companies Act to remove this limit, opening the doors to unlimited funding by corporate India, critics argue.

What is the Election Commission’s stand on electoral bonds?

— The Election Commission, in its submission to the Standing Committee on Personnel, Public Grievances, Law and Justice in May 2017, had objected to the amendments in the Representation of the People (RP) Act, which exempt political parties from disclosing donations received through electoral bonds. It described the move as a “retrograde step”. In a letter written to the Law Ministry the same month, the Commission had even asked the government to “reconsider” and “modify” the above amendment.

— Asking the government to withdraw the new proviso, the EC had written, “In a situation where the contribution received through electoral bonds are not reported, on perusal of the contribution report of political parties, it cannot be ascertained whether the political party has taken any donation in violation of provision under Section 29(b) of the RP Act which prohibits the political parties from taking donations from government companies and foreign sources.”

(Sources: Electoral bonds: Political parties get Rs 676 cr from anonymous donors by George Mathew and How electoral bonds work, and why they face criticism by Udit Misra )

Point to ponder: Why is the electoral bond scheme being opposed by transparency activists?

2. MCQ

With respect to Electoral Bonds, consider the following statements

1. Electoral bonds are purchased anonymously by donors and are valid for 30 days from the date of issue.

2. As debt instruments, these can be bought by donors from a bank, and the political party can then encash them.

3. Reserve Bank of India is authorised to issue and encash these bonds.

Which of the above statements is/are true?

a) Only 1

b) Only 2

c) 2 and 3

d) All of the above

 World Bank’s new toolkit

Why in news?

— On December 8, the World Bank launched a “Toolkit on Enabling Gender Responsive Urban Mobility and Public Spaces in India” with the aim of suggesting ways to make public transport in Indian cities more inclusive of women’s travelling requirements.

— The toolkit emphasises on the importance of integrating a gender lens in transport policies and infrastructure, making various recommendations on interventions that can help make urban transport safer, especially for women. It brings together 50 case studies of best practices and efforts from across the world, along with a special inculcation of the Indian context.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

Poor public transport curtails women’s financial independence and agency

— Studies show that women, especially those from lower socio-economic groups, are among the biggest users of public transport in Indian cities. Their dependence on public transport stems from lower discretionary incomes. Further, women have unique mobility patterns, often travelling shorter distances, using multiple modes of transport, and travelling with dependents, during “off-peak hours”.

— Currently, urban mobility systems are not catered to these unique needs of women. This can make travel inconvenient, unsafe, and also more expensive for them, putting an additional burden on a section of society which is already disadvantaged. While many women use public transport on a daily basis out of compulsion, the state of public transport systems has a major impact on a variety of decisions made by women.

— Studies have shown that lack of safe, inexpensive and reliable public transport has a profound impact on women’s ability to access education and employment opportunities, in turn leading to poorer life outcomes for them. India’s female labour force participation rate is among the lowest in the world, standing at just 30% in 2019-20. Lack of viable urban transport is frequently cited as a major impediment for women to access better employment opportunities.

— Studies have also shown how distance from home impacts women’s choice of colleges and other educational institutions — and by implication their financial independence and agency.

Safety, efficiency and cost are major concerns

— Lack of safety and also the lack of a perception of safety are a major impediment for women when it comes to accessing public transport. Dearth of good street lighting, no reliable last mile transport, and high waiting time at remote bus stops are just some of the challenges in this regard.

— Crucially, beyond being safe, public transport infrastructure also needs to be perceived to be safe, as it is the perception that guides decisions to use such transport. With safety issues turning women away from using public transport, a vicious cycle is created — unsafe transport leads to fewer women travelling out which in turn leads to fewer women out in public spaces which actually make these spaces even more unsafe.

— Since the burden of care work (mostly unpaid) lies disproportionately on women, they often need to plan their travel far more meticulously than men, having to juggle various responsibilities at home and work.

— For instance, a working mother might have to plan her travel schedule around the school timings of her child and the office timings of her husband. This means that women have a far greater need for public transport to be time-wise reliable and efficient with longer waiting times and delays having a deleterious effect on them.

— Women also face higher costs of travelling. This is mainly because of two reasons.

First, women have to stitch together various short commutes to fulfil the many responsibilities they have. For instance, a typical day for a working mother might involve commutes from home to school back to home, then to her place of work, then back to school and back to home. The World Bank recognises this as “trip chaining” and this increases travel costs.

Second, women often also make decisions to use certain kinds of more expensive routes or forms of transport on account of them being perceived to be more safe. For instance, women often take longer routes to travel which are perceived to be more safe, rather than travelling through “unsafe areas”.

All these factors amount together as a “pink tax” that specifically burden women and impede them from making optimal decisions for themselves.

What does the World Bank toolkit suggest?

— The World Bank suggests a four-pillared approach to help address prevailing issues in urban transport for women.

First, there has to be greater effort made to understand the on-ground situation with a gender lens. Gender blind planning and infrastructure development leaves major gaps that specifically impact women but are often not overtly visible. The first step to addressing these gaps is to better identify what they are. Any new transport policy or infrastructure development must be preceded by an honest evaluation of issues concerning women.

Second, once prevailing issues are identified, policies and development plans must reflect the concerns of women. For this to happen, there must be more women in key institutions in charge of decision making. Until such time women are not adequately represented, their needs are always likely to be secondary. Thus key to actually inculcating a gender lens in public transport planning and development is involving and giving authority to more women stakeholders in the first place.

Third, the toolkit emphasises on building gender sensitivity and awareness among service providers through mandatory programmes and community action. Everyone from the bus conductor to local beat constables must be aware of concerns that women have and how to address them,

Fourth, investment has to be made in better infrastructure and services with a focus on women-friendly design. While increasing services and strengthening infrastructure is a good idea in general, if such development is made from a specific gender lens, it is far more useful. For example, while creating new bus stops is good, it would be even better if these bus stops were designed to be level with the floors of buses, adequate lighting, SOS buttons, and well-maintained washrooms.

— Some concrete interventions that the toolkit suggests include creation of wide obstruction-free footpaths, street lighting, clear signages, dedicated bicycle lanes, introduction of short and circuitous bus routes, and subsidising/making free public transport for women.

Who does this toolkit help?

— According to the World Bank, the toolkit contains practical tools that can inform a wide set of policymakers as well as private or community-based organisations. The aim is for this toolkit to be a reference for any entity engaging in any work regarding public transport and urban mobility. Not only does this tool kit provide many practical interventions, it also highlights certain thematic issues that one can encounter in this space.

— Crucially, the point of this toolkit is not to make gender an additional concern for policy makers and developers. Rather, it is to integrate a gender lens into everyday planning and development in order to make our cities safer and more accessible to women.

( Sources: What’s in World Bank’s new toolkit on making urban transport better for Indian women? by Arjun Sengupta )

Point to ponder: Why India needs ‘good’ urbanisation?

3. MCQ

Recently seen in news“Toolkit on Enabling Gender Responsive Urban Mobility and Public Spaces in India” is launched by 

a) UN Women

b) World Bank

c) NITI Aayog

d) Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, GOI

EAGLE Act

Why in news?

— The White House has supported Congress to pass a legislation that seeks to eliminate the per country quota on green cards to allow US employers to focus on hiring people based on merit, not their birthplace, a bill if passed would benefit several hundreds of thousands of immigrants specially Indian-Americans.

KEY TAKEAWAYS

— A legislation to remove the per-country cap on permanent residency visas, or green cards, for the US was introduced in the House of Representatives in 2021.

— Democrat Representative Zoe Lofgren and Republican John Curtis, introduced the Equal Access to Green cards for Legal Employment (EAGLE) Act of 2021, which, according to their statement, would “benefit the US economy by allowing American employers to focus on hiring immigrants based on their merit, not their birthplace”.

— The bill will be advantageous for Indian job-seekers who currently rely on temporary visas or await green cards to work in the US.

A Green Card, known officially as a Permanent Resident Card, is a document issued to immigrants to the US as evidence that the bearer has been granted the privilege of residing permanently.

What does the EAGLE Act say about the per-country limit?

— The bipartisan act seeks to phase out the seven per cent per-country limit on employment-based immigrant visas and raises the per-country limit on family-sponsored visas from seven per cent to 15 per cent. It provides for a nine-year period for the elimination of this limit.

— The seven per cent limit was introduced in the mid-20th century, which has led countries with relatively small populations to be allocated the same number of visas as a relatively large-population country, states a press release by the Representatives.

“A person from a large-population country with extraordinary qualifications who could contribute greatly to our economy and create jobs waits behind a person with lesser qualifications from a smaller country,” the statement further reads, adding that the act seeks to ‘de-emphasize birthplace’.

How does it help Indians?

—Think-tank Cato Institute had reported in March 2020 that 75 per cent of the backlog for employment‐based visas was made up of Indians.

“Backlogged Indian workers face an impossible wait of nine decades if they all could remain in the line,” the report states. “More than 200,000 petitions filed for Indians could expire as a result of the workers dying of old age before they receive green cards.”

— With the EAGLE Act, the per-country cap would be removed, which may expedite the petitions for those applying for employment-based green cards.

— However, since the highest number of applicants are from India and China, the EAGLE Act also seeks to reserve visas for ‘Lower Admission States’ for nine fiscal years (FY).

— While 30 per cent of employment-based visas will be reserved in FY1, this would be reduced to five per cent in FY 7, 8 and 9.

— The bill also ensures that “no country may receive more than 25 per cent of reserved visas and no country may receive more than 85 per cent of unreserved visas,” in the nine fiscal years.

Point to ponder: Why do Indians do so well abroad?

4. MCQ

EAGLE Act often seen in news relates to

a) Green Cards

b) Defence purchases

c) Internal Security

d) US gun laws

ANSWERS TO MCQs: 1 (a), 2 (b), 3 (b), 4 (a)

 

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