Current Affairs (24th June 2021)
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef
- Recently, the UNESCO World Heritage Committee has recommended that the Australia’s Great Barrier Reef should be added to a list of “in danger” World Heritage Sites because of its dramatic coral decline.
- UNESCO has recommended that a total of 7 sites be added to the endangered list and that two sites – Liverpool’s waterfront and Selous game reserve in Tanzania, where poachers have run amok – be stripped of their World Heritage status altogether.
- Although the Report did commend Australia’s efforts to improve reef quality and its financial commitment.
- Despite Reef 2050, the coral reef ecosystem has suffered three major bleaching events since 2015 due to severe marine heatwaves.
- The decision to downgrade the status was politically motivated and flawed, hinting at China which chairs the UNESCO committee.
- After UNESCO first debated its “in danger” status in 2017, Canberra committed more than A$3 billion (£1.bn; $2.2bn) to improving the reef’s health.
- The List of World Heritage in danger is maintained in accordance with Article 11 (4) of the 1972 World Heritage Convention.
- Inscribing a site on the List of World Heritage in Danger allows the World Heritage Committee to allocate immediate assistance from the World Heritage Fund to the endangered property.
- However, several bleaching events on the reef in the past five years have caused widespread loss of coral.
- Carbon Emissions: Australia’s reliance on coal-fired power makes it one of the world’s largest carbon emitters per capita, but its conservative government has steadfastly backed the country’s fossil fuel industries, arguing tougher action on emissions would cost jobs.
Great Barrier Reef:
- It is unique as it extends over 14 degrees of latitude, from shallow estuarine areas to deep oceanic waters.
- Within this vast expanse are a unique range of ecological communities, habitats, and species – all of which make the Reef one of the most complex natural ecosystems in the world.
- The reef is in the Coral Sea, off the coast of Queensland, Australia.
- It was selected as a World Heritage Site in 1981.
- Recently, captive-bred pygmy hogs were released into Manas National Park of western Assam.
- This is the second batch of captive-bred pygmy hogs to have been reintroduced into the wild under the Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme (PHCP) in a year.
- The Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme aims to increase the population of pygmy hogs in the wild.
- The Pygmy Hog Conservation Programme (PHCP) follows a two-pronged action plan: conservation breeding of the animal against possible early extinction and re-introduction in selected sites, and habitat management.
- The reintroduction of captive hogs in the wild began in 2008. Initially, three Protected Areas in their historical distribution range in Assam were selected including Sonai-Rupai Wildlife Sanctuary, Orang National Park and Barnadi Wildlife Sanctuary.
- The number of pygmy hogs reintroduced into the wild under the PHCP has been more than their current original global wild population. Thus, the present efforts will go a long way in bringing back the pygmy hog from near extinction.
Restoration of grasslands:
- The Pygmy Hogs are intrinsic to the health of grasslands. Hence their conservation is a must for better protection and restoration of alluvial grasslands in the southern foothills of the Himalayas.
- Given the fact that pygmy hogs choose dense grasslands as their habitat, conservation efforts directed at pygmy hogs will also help improve the health of the grassland ecosystem in the area.
- Wet grasslands apart from serving as habitat to endangered species like the one-horned rhino, tiger, hog deer, eastern barasingha, water buffalo, hispid hare, and the Bengal florican, also serve as buffer against floods in the monsoons, while maintaining high groundwater level in the dry season, thereby benefitting agriculture and the farming community that live on its fringes.
Indicator species of grassland ecosystem:
- The pygmy hog is an indicator species. Its presence reflects the health of its primary habitat, the tall, wet grasslands of the Terai.
- Indicator species are animals, plants, or microorganism that reflect the biotic or abiotic state of an environment; reveal evidence for the impacts of environmental change; or indicate the diversity of other species.
- Indicator species serves as a measure of the environmental conditions that exist in each locale and are thus used to monitor changes in the environment.
- Examples – greasewood indicates saline soil; mosses often indicate acid soil. Tubifex worms indicate oxygen-poor and stagnant water unfit to drink.
- Pygmy hogs (porculasalvania) are one of the world’s rarest and smallest wild pigs.
- The pygmy hog is native to dense alluvial grasslands in the southern foothills of the Himalayas.
- Endemic to India, they are restricted to very few locations around Manas National Park in north-western Assam.
- With just around 250 animals in the wild, the pygmy hog is one of the world’s most threatened mammals.
- The main threats pygmy hogs face are loss and degradation of their grassland habitat due to human settlements, agricultural encroachments, dry season burning of grasslands, livestock grazing, commercial forestry and flood control schemes. These constitute major threats to their survival.
- Due to a small wild population, estimated at less than 250 individuals, and a highly restricted range, the pygmy hog is currently listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.
- The pygmy hog is designated as a Schedule I species in India under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
Rescual of Judges
- Recently, two Supreme Court judges have recused themselves from hearing cases relating to West Bengal.
- On June 21, Delhi High Court judge Anup Bhambhani recused himself from hearing a plea by digital media houses challenging the validity of the IT rules regulating intermediaries.
- When there is a conflict of interest, a judge can withdraw from hearing a case to prevent creating a perception that she carried a bias while deciding the case.
- For example, if the case pertains to a company in which the judge holds stakes, the apprehension would seem reasonable.
- Similarly, if the judge has, in the past, appeared for one of the parties involved in a case, the call for recusal may seem right.
- Another instance for recusal is when an appeal is filed in the Supreme Court against a judgement of a High Court that may have been delivered by the Supreme Court judge when she was in the High Court.
- This practise stems from the cardinal principle of due process of law that nobody can be a judge in her case.
- Any interest or conflict of interest would be a ground to withdraw from a case since a judge must act fair.
Process For Recusal
- The decision to recuse generally comes from the judge herself as it rests on the conscience and discretion of the judge to disclose any potential conflict of interest.
- In some circumstances, lawyers or parties in the case bring it up before the judge.
- If a judge recuses, the case is listed before the Chief Justice for allotment to a fresh Bench.
- There are no formal rules governing recusals, although several Supreme Court judgments have dealt with the issue.
- In Ranjit Thakur v Union of India (1987), the Supreme Court held that the tests of the likelihood of bias are the reasonableness of the apprehension in the mind of the party.
- A Judge shall not hear and decide a matter in a company in which he holds shares unless he has disclosed his interest and no objection to his hearing and deciding the matter is raised,”
- States the 1999 charter ‘Restatement of Values in Judicial Life’, a code of ethics adopted by the Supreme Court.
- Once a request is made for recusal, the decision to recuse or not rests with the judge.
- While there are some instances where judges have recused even if they do not see a conflict but only because such apprehension was cast.
- There have also been several cases where judges have refused to withdraw from a case.
- For instance, in 2019, Justice Arun Mishra had controversially refused to recuse himself from a Constitution Bench set up to re-examine a judgement he had delivered previously, despite several requests from the parties.
- Justice Mishra had reasoned that the request for recusal was an excuse for “forum shopping” and agreeing could compromise the independence of the judiciary.
- In the Ayodhya-Ramjanmabhoomi case, Justice U U Lalit recused himself from the Constitution Bench after parties brought to his attention that he had appeared as a lawyer in a criminal case relating to the case.
- Recusal is also regarded as the abdication of duty. Maintaining institutional civilities are distinct from the fiercely independent role of the judge as an adjudicator.
- It is the constitutional duty, as reflected in one’s oath, to be transparent and accountable, and hence, a judge is required to indicate reasons for his recusal from a particular case.