1. Already low, how India-Pakistan trade nearly collapsed in 2019

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; IOBR

Tensions between India and Pakistan in 2019 have reduced the already low volumes of trade between the two countries to near zero.

Steps taken by India and Pakistan

Following the terrorist attack on the CRPF convoy in Pulwama in February, India withdrew Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status for Pakistan and raised customs duty on Pakistani imports to 200% and, in April, suspended cross-LoC trade to stop the misuse of this route by Pakistan-based elements. Pakistan on its part, closed its airspace to India for a prolonged period.

Impact

The decisions by both countries, while targeted at hurting the neighbour, have severely impacted livelihoods of individuals and families involved in cross-border trading activities, says a report, Unilateral Decisions Bilateral Losses: Assessing the Impact of the Face-off between India and Pakistan in 2019, on Border Economies, released in New Delhi on January 16.

The report, by Afaq Hussain and Nikita Singla of the thinktank Bureau of Research on Industry and Economic Fundamentals (BRIEF), has used field research in Punjab and Jammu & Kashmir to assess the “micro level impact” of the decisions by the two governments. Snapshots from the report:

India-Pakistan trade, in the beginning

In 1948-49, about 56% of Pakistan’s exports were to India, and 32% of its imports came from India. From 1948-65, India and Pakistan used a number of land routes for bilateral trade; there were eight customs stations in Pakistan’s Punjab province and three customs checkposts in Sindh.

India remained Pakistan’s largest trading partner until 1955-56. Between 1947 and 1965, the countries signed 14 bilateral agreements on trade, covering avoidance of double taxation, air services, and banking, etc. In 1965, nine branches of six Indian banks were operating in Pakistan.

Source: The Indian Express

2. How IVF is reversing an imminent extinction

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Science & Technology

Researchers in Kenya said last week that they had created another embryo — the third — of the nearly extinct northern white rhino, a remarkable success in an ongoing global mission to keep the species from going extinct.

FUNCTIONALLY EXTINCT SINCE 2018

The Kenyan conservancy looking after the last male northern white rhino was forced to euthanise it in March 2018. The 45-year-old rhino, Sudan, was suffering from age-related complications that had eaten at his bones and given him skin wounds.

The death of Sudan, who was earlier at the Dvur Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic, left the world with only two northern white rhinos, Najin, 30, and Fatu, 19 — both female.

About the Species

The northern white is one of the two subspecies of the white (or square-lipped) rhinocerous, which once roamed several African countries south of the Sahara. The other subspecies, the southern white is, by contrast, the most numerous subspecies of rhino, and is found primarily in South Africa. There is also the black (or hook-lipped) rhinocerous in Africa, which too, is fighting for survival, and at least three of whose subspecies are already extinct.

The Indian rhinocerous is different from its African cousins, most prominently in that it has only one horn. There is also a Javan rhino, which too, has one horn, and a Sumatran rhino which, like the African rhinos, has two horns.

REVERSING THE EXTINCTION

In July 2018, scientists reported a major breakthrough — IVF for rhinos. They created a test-tube embryo by fertilising the egg of a southern white female with the frozen sperm of a northern white male. Immediately, there was hope for the northern white subspecies — if eggs from Najin and Fatu could be fertilised by the available frozen sperm from four (now dead) northern white males.

The task of collecting oocytes from Najin and Fatu was difficult and delicate, but in September 2019, researchers announced they had created two embryos, the decisive turning point in the effort to save the northern white. The success announced last week was the third. Four eggs were collected from Najin and six from Fatu; all three viable embryos were, however, created using Fatu’s eggs.

The embryos have been preserved in liquid nitrogen, and will be transferred to a southern white surrogate. Neither of the two living northern white females can carry a pregnancy. Since the gestation period for a rhino could be 18 months, the first northern white calf is expected to arrive in the world in 2022. The ultimate goal, scientists say, is to create a herd of perhaps five northern white rhinos that could be returned to the wild. That, however, could take several decades, given that the task of collecting eggs from Najin and Fatu will likely become increasingly more complex and risky as they grow older.

Source: The Indian Express

3. What is the agreement to settle Bru refugees in Tripura?

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; Polity & Governance

Twenty-three years after ethnic clashes in Mizoram forced 37,000 people of the Bru (or Reang) community to flee their homes to neighbouring Tripura, an agreement has been signed to allow them to remain permanently in the latter state.

The agreement among the Bru leaders and the governments of India, Tripura, and Mizoram, signed in New Delhi on January 16, gives the Bru the choice of living in either state. In several ways, the agreement has redefined the way in which internal displacement is treated in India.

What is in the Bru agreement?

All Bru currently living in temporary relief camps in Tripura will be settled in the state, if they want to stay on. The Bru who returned to Mizoram in the eight phases of repatriation since 2009, cannot, however, come back to Tripura.

To ascertain the numbers of those who will be settled, a fresh survey and physical verification of Bru families living in relief camps will be carried out. The Centre will implement a special development project for the resettled Bru; this will be in addition to the Rs 600 crore fund announced for the process, including benefits for the migrants.

Each resettled family will get 0.03 acre (1.5 ganda) of land for building a home, Rs 1.5 lakh as housing assistance, and Rs 4 lakh as a one-time cash benefit for sustenance. They will also receive a monthly allowance of Rs 5,000, and free rations for two years from the date of resettlement.

All cash assistance will be through Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT), and the state government will expedite the opening of bank accounts and the issuance of Aadhaar, permanent residence certificates, ST certificates, and voter identity cards to the beneficiaries.

A Bru woman in traditional attire at a protest by the community last year

When will the Bru resettlement take place?

Physical verification to identify beneficiaries will be carried out within 15 days of the signing of the deal. The land for resettlement will be identified within 60 days, and the land for allotment will be identified within 150 days.

The beneficiaries will get housing assistance, but the state government will build their homes and hand over possession. They will be moved to resettlement locations in four clusters, paving the way for the closure of the temporary camps within 180 days of the signing of the agreement. All dwelling houses will be constructed and payments completed

within 270 days. Tripura Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb has said he hopes to wrap up the process even sooner — in six months.

Where will the Bru be resettled?

Revenue experts reckon 162 acres will be required. Chief Minister Deb has said that the effort will be to choose khash or government land, but since Tripura is a small state (only 10,491 sq km), his government would explore the possibility of diverting forest lands, even reserve forest areas if necessary, to grant the new entitlements.

Diverting forest land for human settlements will, however, need clearance from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), which is likely to take at least three months.

Deb has said that the central government has promised to provide funds, if needed, to acquire forest land or government land.

In what condition are the migrants now?

The Bru or Reang are a community indigenous to Northeast India, living mostly in Tripura, Mizoram, and Assam. In Tripura, they are recognised as a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group (PVTG). Over two decades ago, they were targeted by the Young Mizo Association (YMA), Mizo Zirwlai Pawl (MZP), and a few ethnic social organisations of Mizoram who demanded that the Bru be excluded from electoral rolls in the state. In October 1997, following ethnic clashes, nearly 37,000 Bru fled Mizoram’s Mamit, Kolasib, and Lunglei districts to Tripura, where they were sheltered in relief camps. Since then, over 5,000 have returned to Mizoram in nine phases of repatriation, while 32,000 people from 5,400 families still live in six relief camps in North Tripura.

Under a relief package announced by the Centre, a daily ration of 600 g rice was provided to every adult Bru migrant and 300 g to every minor. Some salt too, was given to each family. Every adult received a daily cash dole of Rs 5; every minor Rs 2.50. Meagre allocations were made from time to time for essentials such as soap, slippers, and mosquito nets.

Most migrants sold a part of their rice and used the money to buy supplies, including medicines. They depended on the wild for vegetables, and some of them have been practising slash-and-burn (jhum) cultivation in the forests.

They live in makeshift bamboo thatched huts, without permanent power supply and safe drinking water, with no access to proper healthcare services or schools.

How did the agreement come about?

In June 2018, Bru leaders signed an agreement in Delhi with the Centre and the two state governments, providing for repatriation to Mizoram. Most residents of the camps, however, rejected the “insufficient” terms of the agreement. Only 328 families returned to Mizoram, rendering the process redundant. The camp residents said the package did not guarantee

their safety in Mizoram, and that they feared a repeat of the violence that had forced them to flee.

On November 16, 2019, Pradyot Kishore Debbarma, scion of Tripura’s erstwhile royal family, wrote to Home Minister Amit Shah seeking the resettlement of the Bru in the state. The Bru were originally from Tripura, and had migrated to Mizoram after their homes were flooded due to the commissioning of the Dumboor hydroelectric power project in South Tripura in 1976, he claimed. The very next day, Chief Minister Deb too, asked the Centre for permanent settlement of the Bru in Tripura.

How is this agreement different from the earlier initiatives taken for the Bru?

Successive state and central governments had thus far stressed only on peacefully repatriating the Bru, even though the enduring fear of ethnic violence remained a fundamental roadblock. The two other “durable solutions” for refugees and displaced persons suggested by the UN Refugee Agency — local integration or assimilation, and resettlement — were never explored.

Apart from their own Kaubru tongue, the Bru speak both Kokborok and Bangla, the two most widely spoken languages of the tribal and non-tribal communities of Tripura, and have an easy connection with the state. Their long stay in Tripura, albeit in exile and in terrible conditions, has also acquainted them very well with the state’s socio-political ecology.

Home Minister Shah, who presided over the signing of the agreement, hailed the “historic” resolution of the Bru issue. He thanked the Chief Ministers of Tripura and Mizoram, Pradyot Kishore Debbarma, and some social organisations for creating the conditions for the agreement.

Source: The Indian Express

4. Who are the Brus, and what are the implications of settling them in Tripura?

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; Polity & Governance

A quadripartite agreement in New Delhi on January 16 allowed some 35,000 Bru tribal people, who were displaced from Mizoram and are living in Tripura as refugees since 1997, to settle permanently in Tripura. The Centre, State governments of Tripura and Mizoram, and representatives of Bru organisations signed the agreement in the presence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah. The “solution” has evoked mixed reactions with rights activists fearing it could “legitimise” the ejection of minority communities by ethnocentric states.

Who are the Brus and how did they become internally displaced?

The Brus, aka Reangs, are spread across Tripura, Mizoram and southern Assam. In Mizoram, they are scattered in Kolasib, Lunglei and Mamit districts. While many Brus of Assam and Tripura are Hindu, the Brus of Mizoram converted to Christianity over the years. Clashes in 1995 with the majority Mizos led to the demand for the removal of the Brus, perceived to be non-indigenous, from Mizoram’s electoral rolls. This led to an armed movement by a Bru outfit, which killed a Mizo forest official in October 1997. The retaliatory ethnic violence saw more than 40,000 Brus fleeing to adjoining Tripura where they took shelter in six relief camps.

Have there been efforts to repatriate them?

The Centre and the two State governments involved made nine attempts to resettle the Brus in Mizoram. The first was in November 2010 when 1,622 Bru families with 8,573 members went back. Protests by Mizo NGOs, primarily the Young Mizo Association, stalled the process in 2011, 2012 and 2015. Meanwhile, the Brus began demanding relief on a par with the relief given to Kashmiri Pandits and Sri Lankan Tamil refugees. The Centre spent close to ₹500 crore for relief and rehabilitation until the last peace deal was brokered over three years since 2015. A final package of ₹435 crore was arrived at in July 2018 and it involved Mizo NGOs besides the governments concerned.

Why did the Mizoram rehabilitation package not work out?

The package covered 32,876 members of 5,407 Bru families, entailing a one-time assistance of ₹4 lakh as fixed deposit within a month of repatriation, monthly cash assistance of ₹5,000 through DBT, free rations for two years, and ₹1.5 lakh in three instalments as house-building assistance. The package also included Eklavya residential schools, permanent residential and ST certificates besides funds to the Mizoram government for improving security in Bru resettlement areas. The refugees were given a deadline, September 30, to move or face harder times at the relief camps. But most stayed back, demanding resettlement in close-knit clusters and an autonomous council for Brus in Mizoram.

What are the implications of the Tripura resettlement?

The demand to rehabilitate the Brus in Tripura was first raised by Pradyot Manikya, the scion of the Tripura royal family. The BJP-led Tripura government agreed. Chief Minister Biplab Deb called the “solution” within Tripura historic, as did his Mizoram counterpart Zoramthanga. Guwahati-based researcher on social issues and conflicts, Walter Fernandes, said the decision was humanitarian from the point of view of the Brus, who were apprehensive about returning to Mizoram, but felt it could lead to conflicts with the locals of Tripura. Delhi-based rights activist Suhas Chakma said it could set a bad precedent, encouraging ethnocentric states to eject minorities of all hues besides making the Brus of Mizoram opt for the rehabilitation package in the relative safety of Tripura. The displaced Brus who returned to Mizoram have already begun demanding a package equivalent to the one those who stayed behind in the Tripura relief camps would be getting. And conflicts between the Brus and the local Bengali non-tribal people have started taking place in Tripura.

Source: The Hindu

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