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SPECIAL ARTICLES / ISSUES / TOPICS OF THE HINDU (SEPTEMBER)
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Friday, 08 November 2013 04:01


SPECIAL ARTICLES / ISSUES / TOPICS OF THE HINDU (SEPTEMBER)


1. Reimagining the Silk Route

2. Reviving Kashmir

3. Appointments and some disappointments

4. Platelets help Kill Bacteria, too

5. Elders need a fair deal

6. Global Monitoring Report 2013

7. Commodity Transaction Tax to be levied from July 1

8. Not that Great being an Indian Bustard

9. Dispute on Nile Water

10. India Bans Testing of Cosmetics on Animals

11. A trojan horse at the judiciary’s door

12. A River ran Through it

13. One big step towards peace

14. Corruption & Politics

15. A step toward space station for China

16. The Happiness Quotient

17. Bio-energy and Bio-plastics Produced by Novel Methods

18. Change the climate for India’s poor

19. U.K. to pay £20 million for Mau Mau atrocity

20. Finance Ministry seeks comments on FSLRC recommendations

21. Panel to Assess Competitiveness of Financial Sector


1. REIMAGINING THE SILK ROUTE

In 1877, German explorer Baron Ferdinand von Richtofen used the name of a treasured cloth as a seductive metaphor to coin the term Silk Route for a conjunction of ancient, though not smooth, caravan routes scattered over Eurasia along the Far East, Central Asia, South Asia, reaching up to Africa. Probably inspired by wily tales of secrecy linked to the making and trade of silk— an ‘invention’ romantically ascribed to a Chinese princess fishing out a fibrous cocoon found floating in her tea cup — the route was active, offering a lot more.

The tangible and the intangible

The first millennium BC through the middle of the second millennium AD witnessed seminal give and take in the areas traversed by the Silk Route. Buddhism and Islam became world religions. Sufis and poets provided enlightenment, spices pickled foods. Pottery, glass, gold, tea, indigo, jade and textiles made merchants rich and crafts people prospered. The vocabularies of music, architecture, dance, drama and design morphed. Values became more universal as world views expanded. The flux was intense, effecting a profound movement, deeply impacting our thought, actions and deeds. The impact on both tangible and intangible heritage was profound.

The Silk Route in fact became humanity’s first global exchange — a precursor to the Internet — not just opening multiple ways but offering a web of choices, instrumental to great innovations that have directly impacted culture, science and commerce of today.

As a conduit of transmission of knowledge and wisdom and as a perennial source of adventure, discovery and power, its deep resonance still evokes fresh perspectives which are perhaps just as vital now for the future of our world: a world fast shrinking…Hollywood celebrities working with Asian teams and themes, IT with its cyber web of interdependencies, culinary arts tickling changing palates, material goods and games catering to emerging life styles, medicines and wellness industries integrating the ancient with the modern. New Routes? How does South Asia reach out to ride the waves?

The peripheries of our subcontinent can once again become vital links as dynamic and lucrative gateways to the rest of Asia. With strategic interventions to ease political tensions, fragile Kashmir, once a vital junction on a great crossroads and the troubled seven sisters along the volatile North Eastern Himalayas, could well have an indispensible stake in such a plan. Connectivity of areas that have become conflict affected would symbolise relative prosperity for the whole region, stimulate migrations and exchange, stabilise fast disappearing skills and livelihoods, re-define securities and modernity with a purpose.

The efforts to re-establish ancient routes are tied up with the pragmatic needs of new nation states along the routes, such as in the former Soviet Union, for modern infrastructure and this millennium’s goals for development. Today, Unesco is perhaps less persuasive than the realpolitik of Uncad, UNDP, Unescap and ADB pooling their might to develop Trans Asian Highways and Trans continental Railways.

Talking about revival of Silk and spice Routes for intellectual or ideological cross fertilization of ancient culture will continue but if commercial, social and geopolitical justifications are found, a lot else follows without much ado.

In 2004 India became signatory with 30 countries for joint projects on Trans Asian transportation networks. China’s role was to promote a single axis linking Europe-Central Asia with its mainland. Bypassing most of South Asia with exception of a small opening into north-east Pakistan, China carries on with much else for purposes other than trade.

India, though, has done little, neglecting great economic and geopolitical dividends for north-west or north-east India. More than four decades ago, I crossed the picturesque Mughal route running through Rajouri, Poonch and Thanamandi on mule back. Lately revived for tourism, other areas such as Ladakh and northeast, remain barely accessible. The government’s new road building programmes are somewhat limited, focusing on mainland connectivity, giving negligible attention to border States. India’s unpreparedness to reach out to Central and East Asia has resulted in it confining itself to a South-South Asia box.

2. REVIVING KASHMIR

Independent cross cultural exchange within an emerging region, particularly for Kashmir will revive the State’s historic role as a veritable and dynamic crucible of major transformations witnessed over centuries. This rare alchemy between Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh has for too long remained static and uninspired. Hinged as the region is to the problematic borders of Pakistan and China, it is losing its critical role in a unique network of cross cutting identities.

What passed through this region went through a transformative rite of passage. Not even an institution like religion emerged untouched. As an important transit emporium in the trade between India and Central Asia, Jammu, Kashmir and Ladakh represent an unusual coexistence of three great faiths tempered by living traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam. The ‘ Trika ’ of the three continues to influence peoples’ lives, giving the call to human conscience in an increasingly polarised region. Kashmir embodies ‘Kashmiriyat’ — a quality the young holding guns can barely understand.


3. APPOINTMENTS AND SOME DISAPPOINTMENTS

The law treats the rich and the poor, the man and the woman, the mountain and the valley, all on an equal footing. But the legal system can be operated only if lawyers are able to argue. The Bar is integral to the administration of justice, but it does make the process expensive and rather exclusive. India has adopted an adversarial legal system and it cannot function without the Bar. The members of the Bar compete in a commercial economy. Going to court involves hiring advocates, who naturally vie with one another in terms of their remuneration.

The poor man is often rudely shut out of a money-driven market. In a world where the have-nots have no clout, the law and the lawyer by and large tend to support the haves. The judiciary itself is largely chosen from among the members of the Bar, and, therefore, inevitably tends to have an inherent predisposition towards those with a good bank balance.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department, W.S. Churchill on the second reading of the Trade Unions put it powerfully thus: “The courts hold justly a high, and I think, unequalled pre-eminence in the respect of the world in criminal cases, and in civil cases between man and man, no doubt, they deserve and command the respect and admiration of all classes of the community; but where class issues are involved, it is impossible to pretend that the courts command the same degree of general confidence. On the contrary, they do not, and a very large number of our population have been led to the opinion that they are, unconsciously, no doubt, biased.”

Representatives of the poor

Under the circumstances, socialism will remain a mirage unless the process of selection offers an opportunity for the representatives of the poor to sit on the Bench. The all-important issue where social and economic justice is a matter of state policy is the instrumentality of the selection of the members of the judiciary. Collegiums have ignored this perspective and the most relevant question today in a democracy with a socialistic pattern of society concerns the inclusion in the Constitution of a chapter on the judiciary that would seek to ensure the right orientation of the judicial structure.

Justice has civil and criminal dimensions, and both require substantial mutations which ensure that the voice of the weaker sections is reflected in judicial verdicts. The Supreme Court has interpreted the method of choosing the higher judiciary in a judgment that sets down that with a majority of one it could create the collegium. No plan, no commission, no parliamentary debate, no national symposium but a single vote that makes a majority in a single judgment.

This ad hoc accident is what governs the choice of the members of the higher judiciary. The seniormost three or five judges of the High Court or the Supreme Court comprise the collegiums. Ideology, class character, antecedents, performance or position in the social milieu hardly considered. The whole process is arbitrary, and naturally the perfunctory selection has come up for criticism.

Now, the government and a former Law Minister have claimed that the government has a draft alternative to the collegium. What it is, no one except the government knows. It is wrapped in a mystery of Secretariat files, and buried inside an enigmatic docket of the Law Ministry.

We require a public discussion of a wellthought- out draft proposal where the Bar will get to express its views and the higher judiciary too will give its views. But it shall be the product of national debates, symposia, parliamentary discussions and expression of views by academics, intellectuals and other enlightened sections of humanity. The subject concerns India’s highest-level judiciary, whose verdict is final and binding on the nation. Such an authority needs considerable maturity. Neither Parliament nor the Union Cabinet has chosen to vocalise its views on the subject.

It is a pity that despite the Constitution, and the concept of infallibility of the Supreme Court, many of its appointments have been disappointments.


4. PLATELETS HELP KILL BACTERIA, TOO

The clotting of blood, crucial to wound healing, is carried out by cell fragments called platelets. This is the most established function of platelets, but studies in recent years have begun to hint that platelets may have other important roles in our immune system — like fighting infection.

Now, scientists from the University of Calgary, Canada, seem to have observed proof of this in a study published this week in Nature Immunology . Paul Kubes and his team have identified a new surveillance mechanism in the liver of mice involving platelets.

They noticed that platelets, while sailing across the blood stream in the liver of mice, were making frequent short-lived “touch-and-go” interactions with specialized immune cells called Kupffer cells. Kupffer cells are located in the liver and protect us from infection by capturing and eventually killing bacteria that pass by.

It seemed that this touch-and-go mechanism was how platelets were scanning for captured bacteria. “It is like a security guard going from door to door making sure there are no thieves. If there are none the security guard leaves,” explained Kubes via email to this correspondent.

But when platelets encountered a Kupffer cell bound to bacteria, the platelet-Kupffer cell interaction lasted much longer.

The scientists found out that two receptor proteins on the surface of platelets — GpIb, and the GpIIb-GpIIIa complex have an affinity towards a protein (von Willebrand factor (vWF)) found on the surface of Kupffer cells.

The GpIb receptor binds to the vWF long enough to scan for any captured bacteria. If they find nothing, the platelet detaches and continues along the bloodstream in a touch-and-go interaction.

However, when platelets encountered a Kupffer cell with captured bacteria ( Bacillus cereus , or MRSA) the second receptor binds to the Kupffer cell resulting in a more sustained interaction eventually leading up to the killing of the bacteria.

How exactly this binding is helping fight infection is still being examined.

But it is clear that this platelet-mediated surveillance mechanism is crucial to the mice because most (80-100 per cent) mutant mice lacking platelets or GpIb receptors died within four hours of infection, whereas more than 90 per cent of wild-type mice survived.

In humans

Though this study was performed in mice, Kube says “there is good evidence that human platelets can kill malaria infected red blood cells and in sepsis platelets appear to also be involved so they likely do play a role in immunity.”

These findings raise several important questions regarding the efficiency of drugs like aspirin, which are known platelet inhibitors. “It is unlikely that aspirin will necessarily make you more susceptible to bacteria but if it allows bacteria to survive longer in blood it could help bacteria become more resistant,” said Kubes. “There may be a need to reconsider aspirin use in immunosuppressed patients.”

Crop yields will not meet 2050 global demand: study

Yields of four major crops were not rising fast enough to meet projected global demand in 2050.

Several studies had shown that global crop production needed to double by the middle of this century to meet demands from an increasing human population, more meat and dairy consumption driven by growing affluence and more biofuels use as well to provide food security to millions who were chronically undernourished.

Boosting crop yields, rather than clearing more land for agriculture, was the preferred solution to meet this goal, they pointed out.

The researchers used a newly-developed crop yield and area harvested database to examine yield changes across the globe in maize, rice, wheat and soybean, focusing on trends in the recent two decades.

These four crops together produce nearly two-thirds of the global agricultural calories.

Yields of these crops needed to grow at about 2.4 per cent annually to double production by 2050. But the global average yield increase was only 1.6 per cent a year for maize, one per cent for rice, 0.9 per cent for wheat and 1.3 per cent for soybean. At these rates, global production of the four crops would be “far below what is needed to meet projected demands in 2050,” they noted in the paper. Moreover, the global trends masked significant variations in the rates of yield change among and within countries.

Yields were growing slowly in the top three rice and wheat producing nations. Rice yields had improved in China by only 0.7 per cent a year, in India by one per cent and in Indonesia by 0.4 per cent.

“At these rates, we found that yield driven production growth in India and China could result in nearly unchanged per capita rice harvests, but decline steeply in Indonesia.”

The yearly wheat yield increases in China,

India and the U.S. amounted to only 1.7 per cent, 1.1 per cent and 0.8 per cent.

However, they also pointed out that opportunities did exist to increase production through more efficient use of arable land and

boost yields by spreading best management practices. A portion of the production shortfall could be met by expanding croplands, but at a high environmental cost.

Additional strategies, particularly changing to more plant-based diets and reducing food waste, could reduce the large expected demand growth in food, they remarked.


5. ELDERS NEED A FAIR DEAL

Another World Elder Abuse Awareness Day comes up today, even as a steady stream of reports of elders being denied care and aid, indeed abused and attacked, comes in from different parts of India. The problems of the elderly are primarily economic, marked by the loss of independent incomes. Health-related problems typically dog them too. Lack of safety and security are added perils, especially in urban settings. Pan-India surveys have revealed that almost 30 per cent of the elderly are subjected to some form of abuse or neglect, abandonment, and physical, financial or emotional abuse, often by their own family members. Many are left lonely. Yet, the absence of detailed data on crimes against the elderly in official compilations is striking, and points to inadequate focus on the issue. With improvement in life expectancy, the number of seniors in India is expected to reach 177 million in the next 25 years and 324 million by 2050 — and women will constitute a majority of that cohort. By 2050, the global population of seniors above 60 is set to exceed the number of younger people. The challenges posed by an ageing population are clearly upon us.

The Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007, placed a legal obligation on children and relatives to enable the elderly to live a normal and dignified life. Senior citizens who are unable to maintain themselves financially shall have the right to apply to a maintenance tribunal for an allowance from their children and relatives.

The tribunal may initiate the process suo motu . The Act also has provisions to ensure the state takes care of them, but in practical terms these are hardly of any help. Overall, this legislation is too narrow and ineffective to serve as the primary legal channel for guaranteeing the rights of the elderly. India now needs to set new priorities as its demographic profile undergoes a rapid change.

It ought to put in place a comprehensive policy and programme interventions for older persons. Meanwhile, free healthcare, more old age homes, other kinds of affordable housing, and financial assistance in the form of pension and other payouts, especially to widows, have to be provided for. The right of an elderly citizen to live a life of dignity must be made justiciable. Programmes to enhance skills and knowledge in geriatric care are needed. According priority to the needs of senior citizens in development plans, including in infrastructure facilities, is essential. It is time separate ministries at the Central and State levels were set up to deal with issues concerning senior citizens. The government has a responsibility to protect the elderly and must take this job seriously.


6. GLOBAL MONITORING REPORT 2013

In a protracted period of gloom and persistent recession with feeble signs of recovery in a large part of the developed world, the World Bank, Brookings Institution and others can be forgiven for their euphoria over the accomplishment of a key Millennium Development Goal (MDG) — of halving extreme poverty in the developing world — five years ahead of the 2015 deadline.

Average of 15 poorest countries

Extreme poverty is measured with reference to a threshold of $1.25 per capita per day (in terms of 2005 dollars adjusted for purchasing power differences). This poverty line is the average of the 15 poorest countries. Those below it are condemned to a wretched, brutish and short existence.

Yet, 970 million people will remain poor in 2015, with 84 per cent of them concentrated in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. The latter is also the only region that will not achieve this MDG by 2015.

Global poverty remains a rural problem with more than three-fourths of the extremely poor located in rural areas. However, as global poverty fell, so did the gap between rural-urban poverty. It reduced by half in East Asia and the Pacific by 2008, while in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and South Asia, there was less progress.

Projections differ but various scenarios suggest that poverty estimates in 2030 will range between three and nine per cent. Most projections, however, pay lip service, if any, to market and natural catastrophic risks. Rates of GDP growth observed in recent years are extrapolated with ad hocassumptions about changes in income inequality to arrive at poverty estimates in 2030. As policy buffers against the food price surge and financial crisis that followed in quick succession are far from adequate, vulnerability to such shocks remains a major concern. Besides, the havoc wreaked by natural disasters and conflicts often wipes out years of development.

It is indeed odd that while last year’s Global Monitoring Report (GMR 2012), prepared by World Bank researchers, drew pointed attention to vulnerability to food price and related shocks — specifically the dire consequences for undernourished women and children — the MDG projections in GMR 2013 gloss over this issue and paint a rosy picture of banishing extreme poverty and other deprivations in the next two decades .

Ad hoc assumptions about income inequality widen the range of projected poverty in 2030. With high growth and low income inequality, extreme poverty is likely to be about three per cent while the combination of low growth and high inequality yields a much higher incidence of extreme poverty (nine per cent). Neither the GMR 2013 nor studies by Brookings offer a definitive account of how growth and inequality interact. In fact, recent estimates point to a worsening of income inequality in many countries (China and India) and improvement in a few (like Brazil). The important point is that if growth widens income inequality, ad hoc assumptions about inequality undermine the plausibility of projected poverty in 2030. The actual may well be outside the range projected.

For poverty reduction, some forms of inequality matter more than others. Important ones include inequality in the distribution of assets, especially land, human capital, financial capital and access to public assets such as rural infrastructure. The fast growing economies of East and South-East Asia had the advantage of low asset inequality compared to other Asian and Pacific economies. In some countries, this followed land reforms and a better distribution of educational services. So, moderation of current income inequality while facilitating access to income-generating assets and the promotion of employment opportunities for the poor are imperative.

‘Missing women’

Gender inequity is given short shrift in the MDGs and the focus is confined to differences in primary and secondary education enrolments. But gender disparities continue from birth to adulthood. The cycle of maternal and child malnutrition, morbidity and mortality, tends to perpetuate poverty over generations: a vicious cycle of low investment in women and in girls. Gender discrimination in access to health facilities, nutrition, education and security exacerbates this process further. Arguably, a more

appropriate indicator of gender inequity is Amartya Sen’s measure of “missing women.” It is intuitive and appealing as it captures women’s multiple deprivations over a life span. Comparison of census results for India in 2001 and 2011 points to a slight increase in the sex ratio — a rise from 933 to 940 females per 1,000 males. But there is considerable variation in this ratio across different States. Haryana has the lowest sex ratio (877 females per 1,000 males) while Kerala has the highest (1,084). It is one of the two States (Puducherry being the second) where the number of women exceeds that of men while a few others (Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh) show higher sex ratios in 2011 relative to 2001. Female foeticide and infanticide are stark illustrations of discrimination that begins in the womb and continues thereafter lowering female/ male sex ratio.

Recent studies have drawn attention to the important role of institutions in growth acceleration and poverty reduction. Unfortunately, none of the recent studies (including GMR 2013) examines these links critically despite easy access to World Bank’s rich and up-to-date database on key governance/institutional quality indicators (voice and accountability, political stability and absence of violence, control of corruption, rule of law, and an aggregate index of institutional quality).

Since institutional improvements evolve over time, in complex ways, extensive experiments were carried out in a study that one of us did. Even modest improvements in institutional quality are associated with significant effects on income and, consequently, on poverty. For example, with the voice and accountability index assumed to take on the average value of this index among the top 30 performers, and the historic growth rate of agricultural income, the poverty head-count index (or the proportion of poor) shows marked reductions in China, Bangladesh, India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia, relative to the base line. A key issue is institutional “triggers” that induce institutional quality improvements. A case in point is the right to information that has had remarkable effects in terms of transparency and accountability in India.

Small cities

The GMR 2013 (as well as a series of recent papers by World Bank researchers) make(s) a powerful case for rapid and well-managed urbanisation as key to overall poverty reduction. It rests on efficient rural-urban migration and better utilisation of agglomeration economies. Indeed, it is argued that these could also result in speedier rural poverty reduction. An important link in the chain are small cities (somewhat misleadingly referred to as “the missing middle” given their rapid growth). Their weak infrastructure, and poor hygiene and sanitation are likely to turn them into slums with growing rural-urban migration. So the refrain is that investment must be directed to such cities to better exploit their growth potential.

A premise is that more rural-urban migration will have a substantial pay-off in terms of higher wages in rural areas and greater diversification of rural economies. Fine, except that if this premise is turned on its head, more efficient land, labour and credit markets and better infrastructure in rural areas would not only help raise agricultural productivity but also enable diversification of rural economies and, consequently, discourage rural-urban migration. This dynamic overturns the World Bank thesis.

In conclusion, neither the process of poverty reduction nor the projections for 2030 are plausible. So the prospects of eliminating extreme poverty remain fragile, grim and distant.

7. COMMODITY TRANSACTION TAX TO BE LEVIED FROM JULY 1

Commodity Transaction Tax (CTT) will come into effect from July 1 with a levy of 0.01 per cent of the transactional value being applicable on the seller in futures trading of a host of items such as gold, sugar and edible oils.

Apart from gold, other commodities such as silver, crude oil and base metals and processed farm items such as sugar, soya oil, mentha oil and guar gum will also come under CTT.

According to a Finance Ministry, 23 pure agricultural commodities such as wheat, barley, chana (gram), cotton and potatoes would be exempted from the levy.

Also in the exempted category are some other farm produces such as coriander, cardamom and guar seeds.

In effect, the CTT — as proposed in the Budget for the current fiscal — will primarily be applicable on nearly a dozen processed agricultural commodities at the rate of 0.01 per cent of the transaction value.

In his 2013-14 Budget speech, Finance Minister P.  hidambaram had stated that CTT — on the lines of the Securities Transaction Tax (STT) in the capital market — would be levied on non-farm items to be paid by the seller only in futures trading.

At 0.01 per cent of the transaction value, the levy would work out to Rs.10 on a deal worth Rs.1 lakh.

The implementation of CTT, however, got delayed owing to detailed consultations between the Ministry and various stakeholders on the list of non-farm commodities to be brought under the levy.

National level

Out of the 22 commodity bourses in the country, only six of them operate at the national level. In 2012-13, the combined turnover of these exchanges stood at Rs.170,46,840 crore, six per cent lower as compared to the previous fiscal. Also, of the total turnover, while over 80 per cent comes from non-agricultural commodities, the turnover from futures trade accounts for about 15 per cent of the total trade in commodity segment.

8. NOT THAT GREAT BEING AN INDIAN BUSTARD

The Big Five, Africa’s largest, and thus most prominent, mammals — the lion, the rhino, the leopard, the buffalo and the elephant — have dominated camp fire stories, tourist expectations and the growth of conservation.

Across the world, big animals have a lure that is unmatched — they inspire knee-knocking fear, awe and wonder. The Galapagos tortoise, weighing over 400 kilograms, is also called the Galapagos “giant,” the Indian Rhino is also called the “Great” Indian Rhino, and the elephant is often called the “gentle giant.” In India, much like in Africa, we share habitat with a range of veritable giants: the tiger, the largest of all big cats; the lion, also called the “king” of the jungle; and the brown and black bears, possibly the largest of all carnivores in this country. Yet, one giant has missed out, even though its very name gives away both its endemism as well as its size: the Great Indian Bustard.

Rajasthan’s lead

Found only in India and Pakistan, the sole viable range and population of the Great Indian Bustard is now in India. Here too, the bird, which weighs between 18-20 kilograms and the size of a terrier, has lost more than 90 per cent of its habitat, and is down to a miniscule population of 200 individuals. Thus, it is possibly one of the most critical of all critically endangered bird species in India. Last year, the Ministry of Environment and Forests issued guidelines to start a Centrally sponsored plan called “Project Bustard” in the bustard range States — a much delayed clarion call for three neglected types of bustards, of which the Great Indian Bustard is numerically the closest to extinction. On the lines of Project Tiger and Project Elephant, other Great Indian Bustard States such as Rajasthan, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Maharashtra have been invited to submit species recovery plans to the Centre to avail of funding and start long-term conservation programmes. Last month, the Supreme Court called for the operationalisation of the National Wildlife Action Plan and specifically directed the Government of India and the Union Environment Ministry towards starting species recovery plans for the bird. This month, on World Environment Day, Rajasthan became the first State to declare Project Great Indian Bustard. This is the first time that the west Indian State has announced a landscape plan for its State bird. While we need more range States to actively pursue Project Bustard, we will have to move away from traditional approaches to Centrally sponsored conservation schemes and look at a truly unorthodox protection regime for this unorthodox bird.

Ecological and social niche

The Great Indian Bustard is one of the heaviest flying birds on earth. With its head turned up at a characteristic 45° angle, it gives out a deep “hoom” call, which can be a heard up to a kilometre away. Its local names, Godawan and hoom, are derived from this booming call, an indication of the way its presence has built up in local consciousness. In the 1960s, ornithologist Salim Ali proposed that to “focus interest and solicitude” on a bird that represented the country, the bird should be chosen as the national bird. Despite this consideration and its prominent size, it has since been relegated to complete neglect, perhaps because of the habitat it lives in: semiarid grasslands, which to untrained government eyes, is an epithet for a wasteland. The only habitat protection law that India has is the Forest Conservation Act (1980). And therefore the question is: are grasslands “forests”? Biologists argue that grasslands should be legally considered as forests, for the purpose of conservation of both the habitat and the unique assemblages of species they hold. The only species that went extinct in independent India was the Cheetah, also a grassland species. In its report of the Task Force for Grasslands and Deserts, the Planning Commission notes that species closest to extermination are grassland species, found in dry, wet and high altitude grasslands, such as the lesser florican, the pygmy hog, the Bengal florican and the Nilgiri Tahr. Forest “management” has led zealous forest departments, trained to raise forests and nothing else, towards burning grasses, ploughing soil, and planting trees where grasslands once swayed.

The Great Indian Bustard, with most of its habitat range lost, today poses one of the most pressing challenges to conservation design and management. Despite being such a huge bird, it is a cryptic giant. It converges before the monsoon at sites where it displays for breeding, enlarging its neck and “moustaches.” But where it goes in the non-breeding season is a mystery. With the display season now on, Gujarat, for the first time, has granted permission to the Wildlife Institute of India and others to satellite track the Great Indian Bustard (in the way tigers have been tracked before) to understand its foraging and

dispersing ecology. Conserving this bird will mean both legal protection of breeding and display areas, and joining hands with communities over a large, legally unprotected landscape where the Bustard “disappears” to. Herein is the biggest challenge — to help create ownership towards the last few individuals of this wandering, vagrant bird, the very last evolutionary dregs of a species whose habitat is now an anachronism. It will, in effect, mean creating a vibrant social niche among people, for a bird which is near forgotten.

Community-driven

Where semi-arid grasslands are not available, the Great Indian Bustard is found in pseudo-grasslands — traditional cropping areas of traditional crops, such as millets and sorghum. Here, it has also been found to nest. If arid and semi-arid grasslands — both natural as well as pseudo — can escape land-use change, the other pressing concern is to allow some areas to retain their traditional Great Indian Bustard friendly crops. Instead of a strictly protectionist or legally enforced approach, we will need a management approach, most of which will have to be selfenforced by communities. Conservation planning will have to involve new players, like district commissioners, the revenue department, agricultural officers and gram sabhas . All of them have to be roped in to identify and protect revenue and private lands that bustards forage on, and to encourage natural agro-biodiversity.

If we can save the Great Indian Bustard from extinction, it will mean a triumph against the fatal end, but also a template for facing the typical problems of contemporary conservation today: working with whatever habitat we have left, using principles of restoration ecology to safeguard ecological baselines, and creating reconciliation with dense human communities who hold rights to these areas and are a reality in wildlife conservation today.


9. DISPUTE ON NILE WATER

The diversion of a major Nile tributary has sparked tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia, even as Ethiopia continues nstruction  of Africa’s biggest dam, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, on the world’s longest river.

Ethiopia diverted the course of the Blue Nile to commence construction of the dam, but government officials said the reservoir would be filled gradually to minimise the effects on lower-riparian nations.

The 6000-megawatt, $4.3 billion hydropower project has courted controversy since it was first announced in March 2011. thiopia is the source of the Blue Nile, a major tributary that joins the White Nile in Sudan and accounts for nearly 60 per cent of Nile water.

• Ethiopia’s move to control the flow of the Blue Nile has unsettled Egypt, which relies on the river for almost all its fresh water needs and consumes two-thirds of the water under a colonial treaty first signed in 1929. The treaty divides the water between Sudan and Egypt — once prized British colonies — and ignores the claims of eight other nations that share the waters.

Ethiopian officials expect the dam to begin producing electricity as early as next year and hope to complete construction by  017. Once complete, the dam shall stand at the head of a 74 billion cubic metre reservoir, the filling of which is expected to severely disrupt downstream flows to Egypt and Sudan.

Keeping the Markets Clean

The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) is celebrating its silver jubilee this year. A period of 25 years may not be sufficient to assess the performance of a financial sector regulator, especially when the period under review spans a very tumultuous phase of economic history. During the decade before the start of financial sector reforms in the early 1990s, Indian stock markets had started attracting a wider clientele, such as non–resident Indians. But after the reforms, the markets really took off, both in terms of volumes and types of instruments. Yet even 25 years after SEBI was formed, Indian stock markets are overwhelmingly dominated by equities which, however, continue to form a small part of household financial savings. The government faces daunting challenges in popularising products such as those necessary for infrastructure finance. Matters are not helped by the lackadaisical approach of the government towards the regulator. Set up in 1988, the Board remained a toothless body until April 1992 when the SEBI Act was passed. The stock market scam of 1992, attributed to lax regulations, hastened the conferment of legal status on the regulator.

Right from that initial act of empowerment, the government’s support to the new regulator has always come in reaction to a crisis or the emergence of new scams. It is not surprising that at its silver jubilee function, the SEBI chairman sought jurisdiction over multilevel financial conglomerates and other deposit-gathering entities whose failure has wrought havoc in Bengal and a few other States. At an even more basic level, the government’s support to SEBI has been found wanting when it is crucially needed. This is spectacularly demonstrated by the failure of the government and all political parties to support the regulator, even after it had scored a major victory in the Supreme Court over the Sahara Pariwar.

SEBI has also been handicapped in not having a strong middle management cadre, the backbone of any regulator. Despite all these hurdles, SEBI’s performance deserves appreciation: its oversight has contributed to the exponential growth of the stock market, faster settlements, and extensive use of technology, encouraging disclosures and, above all, in extending regulation for the first time over capital market intermediaries through a well designed licensing process. In the 25 years it has spent down in the trenches of the financial world, SEBI has done well to earn a measure of respect from the markets and investors. What it requires today is the government support needed to go further and take its place among the most credible and respected global financial regulators.

10. INDIA BANS TESTING OF COSMETICS ON ANIMALS

India is the first country in South Asia to ban the testing of cosmetics and its ingredients on animals.

A lokparna Sengupta, Humane Society International (HSI)/India’s Be Cruelty- Free campaign manager, “This is a major victory for countless animals who will no longer be made to suffer, and it is a proud moment for India as it becomes the first country in South Asia to end cosmetics cruelty.”

The decision was taken at a meeting of the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) Cosmetics Sectional Committee, chaired by the Drugs Controller General of India and is in line with the European Union’s stand.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, India, has also been campaigning to end the testing of household products and their ingredients on animals.

Any cosmetic product which carries out animal testing will face action as per provisions of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act and the Animal Cruelty Act. Violation of the Drugs and Cosmetics Act by any person or corporate manager or owner is liable for punishment for a term which may extend from 3-10 years and shall also be liable to fine which could be Rs.500 to Rs.10,000, or with both.

The use of modern non-animal alternative tests also becomes mandatory, replacing invasive tests on animals. This means that any manufacturer interested in testing new cosmetic ingredients or finished products must first seek the approval from India’s regulator Central Drug Standards Control Organisation. A manufacturer will be given approval to test only after complying with the BIS non-animal standards.

More than 1,200 companies around the world have banned all animal tests in favour of effective, modern non-animal tests, but many still choose to subject animals to painful tests.

A sales ban will prevent companies from outsourcing testing and importing animal-tested beauty products back into India for sale.

 

 

11. A TROJAN HORSE AT THE JUDICIARY’S DOOR

The collegium system

This article deals only with the government proposal. It does not deal with how to reform the collegium system. The principal criticism against the collegium system is that it is nontransparent; personal likes and dislikes and prejudices weigh with individual judges in the collegium; the mandatory effective consultation process is wholly opaque and unknown to the public; and meritorious candidates from the Bar and the High Courts are overlooked for undisclosed reasons. It must be highlighted that the collegium system has not attracted any significant criticism that political favourites or pliant judges have been appointed.

Supreme Court judgment

The current appointment mechanism is the result of two judgments of the Supreme Court vizPresidential Reference No. 1 of 1998 (unanimous) and SCAORA vs. UOI (seven against two). The two judgments overruled in part the majority view in S.P. Gupta vs. UOI by holding that in case of a difference of opinion, the CJI’s view as reflected through the collegium would have primacy over the view of the Central government. The concern of the judgments was to eliminate political interference at the stage of appointment. The court observed that “it was obvious that the provision of consultation with the Chief Justice of India … was introduced … to eliminate political inf luence even at the stage of the initial appointment of a judge, since the provisions for securing his independence after appointment were alone not sufficient for an independent judiciary.” The judgments laid down a mandatory consultation process between the constitutional authorities, including the Central government which has inputs from various intelligence agencies. The complaint that the Central government is not consulted or has no say in the matter is misleading and incorrect.

Current scenario

The government is upset because the executive does not now have the primacy it enjoyed earlier. The vigorous judicial scrutiny and oversight of executive misdemeanours in the 2G scam and Coalgate litigations (apart from many others) has rattled the executive. The present administration is smarting under these decisions and has been consistently attacking all constitutional authorities such as the Comptroller and Auditor-General, the Chief Election Commission and the judiciary which acts as a check on executive power.

Historical background

For the new generation of citizens, it is necessary to recall the experience of the past resulting in the collegium mechanism. Congress administrations have been in power for over 52 of the last 63 years of constitutional governance. Consistent attempts have been made to undermine and subvert the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law.

On April 25, 1973, a day after the delivery of the judgment in the Fundamental Rights case (Kesavananda Bharati ), the Indira Gandhi government, departing from earlier conventions, superseded three of the senior-most judges (who had decided against the government) and appointed A.N. Ray as Chief Justice of India. Justice Ray had decided three major cases in favour of the Central government — though in the minority — namely the Bank Nationalisation case, the Privy Purse case and the Kesavananda Bharati case. The government stand was to appoint “forward looking” judges who shared its philosophy — a euphemism for compliant judges. This led to vigorous public protests all over India. J.C. Shah (former CJI), M.C. Setalvad, C.K. Dapthary (two former Attorney-Generals) M.C. Chagla (former Chief Justice of Bombay), V.M. Tarkunde, (former judge of the Bombay High Court), K.T. Desai (former Chief Justice of Gujarat) and N.A. Palkhivala condemned the supersession as a grave threat to judicial independence.

After the declaration of Internal Emergency in June 1975 (as a sequel to the disqualification of Indira Gandhi who lost her election petition and could not obtain a complete stay from the Supreme Court), a calibrated, predetermined attack on judicial independence was organized and implemented. Mass transfers of 16 independent High Court judges, including A.P. Sen, Chinnappa Reddy, B.J. Divan, Sankalchand Sheth, J.R. Vimadalal and P.M. Mukhi, from their parent High Courts were made. Additional Judge U.R. Lalit was not confirmed. Justice S. Rangarajan was transferred to Sikkim because he delivered a judgment in favour of Kuldip Nayar (preventively detained) and a Service Judge R.N. Aggarwal who concurred was reverted as a Sessions Judge (after four years in the Delhi High Court). These were all punitive measures to intimidate independent and fearless judges and undermine their morale.

During the Emergency, the Constitution was extensively amended. Judicial review was almost eliminated and a two-third majority of judges was mandated for invalidating legislation. The press was censored and Opposition leaders were preventively detained without trial.

12. A RIVER RAN THROUGH IT

From finding a trail of evidence supporting the presence of water on Mars a few billion years ago, Curiosity’s discovery of subrounded or rounded pebbles provides definitive proof that the red planet once had a river. According to a May 31 paper in Science , multiple exposures of a sedimentary rock (conglomerate) containing densely-packed rounded pebbles, varying in size from 2 mm to 40 mm in diameter, are particularly significant as they provide indisputable evidence of a palaeo-river. While other discoveries such as water-bearing minerals in veins at the Yellowknife Bay area in Gale crater and smectite clay in John Klein rock samples are in themselves noteworthy, they do not reveal if the water body was moving. In fact, water-bearing minerals in veins do not tell us about surface water flow. On the other hand, the very presence of big, rounded pebbles that lie overlapping along with coarse sand in the rock tell a completely different and definitive tale of Mars’s palaeo-environment. For one, the pebbles not only prove the presence of water but also shed light on the nature and quantum of moving water. Since only water transportation can abrade pebbles as big as 40 mm, and based on estimates for the riverbed’s gradient at the site of discovery, scientists have been able to postulate several characteristics about the river. First, it should have flowed at a velocity of up to 0.75 metres per second, the minimum force required to move pebbles of that size. Second, in order to initiate motion, the river should have had a flow depth of less than 0.90 m. Hence, the amount of water flowing in the river was indeed considerable. Finally, the fact that the pebbles have been abraded to produce subrounded or rounded edges despite having varying characteristics in terms of composition and shape strongly suggest that the river flowed for several kilometres.

In all, the mere presence of rounded pebbles indicates that Mars’s atmospheric conditions at some point in the past were so very different from today that they permitted liquid water to flow on the surface.

In geology, the possibility of discovering prized fossils and pieces of evidence such as this lies in careful selection of the study area. In the present case, the final landing site was decided based on the presence of Mount Sharp, a layered mound within the Gale crater and its proximity to the alluvial fan, the Peace Vallis fan. The pebble discovery confirms the March 12 find of a nonacidic, fresh-water environment based on the finding of smectite clay from a John Klein rock specimen drilled by the rover. Discovering the Holy Grail of space science — a planet capable of supporting life in the past — is no longer a distant dream.

13. ONE BIG STEP TOWARDS PEACE

Secretary John Kerry has demonstrated courage and wisdom in abandoning his predecessor’s insistence on President Bashar al-Assad’s departure as a precondition to talks for a political solution to the Syrian crisis, thereby bringing the American position closer to that of Russia and many others, including India. He has to go a step further and drop objection to Iran’s participation in the Geneva II conference. Iran has more than convincingly established its potential to prolong the conflict; it should be given an opportunity to play a constructive role.

When the Arab Spring sprouted some shoots in Syria in the spring of 2011, it was immediately seized upon by Israel, the United States and Syria’s Sunni neighbours to get rid of the Assad regime — the first set of countries to break the Tehran-Damascus axis and the neighbours to replace a Shia dispensation in Damascus by a Sunni one, however fundamentalist. There was thus ‘congruence’ — a term much in use these days — of interests among regional and extra-regional players.

Israel & Iran

For Israel, the ouster of the regime in Damascus would be of immense benefit. It would greatly weaken Iran’s clout in the region. Anything that debilitates Iran is of enormous importance to Israel, given the portrayal of Iran as posing an existential threat to the Jewish state. Hizbullah, with its massive arsenal of missiles and rockets which can reach Tel Aviv, will have its lifeline disrupted, if not irreparably breached; one of the main reasons for Israel’s restraint in dealing with Iran’s nuclear threat is the capability of Hizbullah to inflict considerable damage to Israel in the event of an Israeli attack on Iran.

For Syria’s neighbours, it was an opportunity, not to be missed, to tilt the regional sectarian balance decisively against the Shias. The loss of the Alawite regime would be a huge psychological blow to Shias and an equal boost to Sunnis everywhere. For that very reason, the two Shia regimes in the region, Iran and Iraq, were always expected to do their utmost to send succour to the Assad regime. The Hizbullah, which has everything to lose in the event of Mr. Assad’s fall has, unsurprisingly, decided to jump into the fray. The Shia-Sunni sectarian divide, ever present but significantly reignited since the American invasion of Iraq in March 2003, has attained a level of intensity which will be extremely difficult to contain in the years ahead. All of Syria’s neighbours, including Israel, have become involved, and not necessarily against their wishes.

These developments, including the very real possibility of hard line Islamist groups gaining power in Damascus in the post-Assad scenario, were easily anticipatable, and were anticipated by this writer and many others. But the temptation to get rid of Mr. Assad was so great that any price was worth it, including the contingency of having to live with an Islamist government in Damascus. No doubt, the West likewise knew how events would unfold, though now it would like us to believe that things have not turned out as per its calculations. The most inexcusable mistake the western countries made was to assume that the Assad regime would fall within weeks of the beginning of the protests. Was this wishful thinking? Or, were they victims of their own propaganda?

The Russian decision to send missiles and other military equipment to Syria should not have surprised anyone. Several Sunni states have been openly arming the rebels since almost the beginning, with the approval of the ‘international community’; why should the Russian action to help the other side in the civil war be treated differently? Civil wars have always attracted external players to back opposing sides; why should Syria be an exception?

It did not call for great analytical skill to recognise that making diplomatic initiatives conditional on the prior departure of Mr. Assad was never going to work. The rebels could be excused for sticking to this line, since their strategy was to get the West more actively engaged on their side, such as by enforcing a nofly zone, sending material and even men to the war zones, etc. (This was exactly the strategy of the Bosnian Muslims during the Bosnian civil war.)

Syria’s Sunni neighbours also were not prepared to countenance the idea of talks with the Damascus regime for sectarian reasons. But if the concern of other external players with the huge loss of lives in Syria was genuine, they had every reason not to insist on the precondition for Mr. Assad’s departure, as well as to persuade the rebels and their regional supporters not to insist on it.

14. CORRUPTION & POLITICS

In April this year, the Haryana government transferred senior IAS officer Ashok Khemka for the second time in six months, or for the 44th time in his 22-year career. The use of transfers and postings in States as a means of harassing officers who are inconvenient because of their professional independence or because they are perceived to be close to an outgoing chief minister is a well-known phenomenon. In his first month as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Akhilesh Yadav moved more than 1,000 civil servants to new positions. Such transfer processes are essentially an indication of the politicians’ will to control policy implementation and ensure loyalty.

Articles 310 and 311 of the Constitution make it impossible for civil servants to be dismissed or demoted by elected representatives.

However, politicians exert control over policy outcomes by reshuffling the bureaucracy across posts of varying importance. The “politicization” of the bureaucracy has become a major public policy issue in India.

Demotivating

If Benjamin Franklin once said nothing in this world can be said to be certain, except death and taxes, the former Central Vigilance Commissioner, N. Vittal, has very aptly proposed “Vittal’s amendment to the Franklin Principle”: For a civil servant, nothing is more certain than death, taxes, transfers and retirement.

Frequent transfers present a major problem for governance because civil servants are not allowed to stay in a position long enough to acquire adequate knowledge of and experience in their job. Such a policy also prevents civil servants from instituting or sustaining reforms. It is both demoralising and demotivating when civil servants are not able to see the fruits of their efforts. A young officer cannot retain her idealism for long if, over a period, she suffers adverse consequences because of honesty and integrity.

Further, due to politicians’ desire to control the bureaucracy, not all important posts are filled with the most skilled officers. This also results in underinvestment in skill by junior bureaucrats with career concerns, since investing in loyalty to specific politicians provides an alternative path to career success.

Concerned over such frequent transfers, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said that no system can deliver if top civil servants are transferred without notice, and thus favours a minimum security of tenure. In State of Maharashtra v. Omprakash Ghanshyamdas Mudiraj , the Bombay High Court showed its concern and

observed that “cases of transfer of employees prior to normal period of three years on the complaints of political parties should be looked into … with close scrutiny.”

In Maharashtra

Various steps have been taken by the government as well as the judiciary to curb this menace. The Central government introduced the Indian Administrative Service (Fixation of Cadre Strength) Regulations, 1955 (amended in 2010), that provides for a minimum tenure for postings for civil servants in all States. So far only 13 States and Union Territories have issued formal notices under the regulations indicating their acceptance.

Maharashtra is the only State to come out with a specific law — the “Maharashtra Government Servants Regulation of Transfer and  Prevention of Delay in Discharge of Official Duties Act, 2005.” It provides for a minimum tenure of three years for all IAS officers and some State government employees. Any violation of the Act may be referred to the Maharashtra Administrative Tribunal with appeal lying at the Bombay High Court.

The Administrative Reforms Commission and Fifth Pay Commission have also endorsed the idea of a high-powered civil services board both at the Centre and the States to look into and regulate cases of premature transfers of civil servants.

The draft Public Services Bill, 2007 stipulates that the Central government should fix a minimum tenure for cadre posts, which may be filled on the basis of merit, suitability and experience, with proper norms and guidelines to enforce transfers and postings. It proposes explicit limits on the political executive’s ability to transfer bureaucrats before they complete two years of service.

For a minimum tenure

Unfortunately, even after several major steps, the frequent transfer of civil servants remains a serious problem. This is because politicians are not interested in making the situation better.

One of the measures of civil service reform should be to give every senior official a minimum tenure of three to five years in a post through a new Public Services Act. The senior officer, who would get a fixed tenure under the new Act, would be strictly accountable for performance of targets set for him in a memorandum of understanding between him and the political executive.

Further, a new provision should be introduced to ensure that no random transfers are made after 10 years of service and that the civil servant should be placed in a subject stream for which s/he has specialised during training. There is need to balance the government’s inherent right to transfer a civil servant against the need for effectiveness and independence in policy implementation and better institutional and procedural reforms. The best way to achieve this is by granting those in crucial positions stability of tenure.

15. A STEP TOWARD SPACE STATION FOR CHINA

China launched its fifth manned space mission with three astronauts, including its second female astronaut, to carry out experiments in space over 15 days. The Shenzhou-10 spacecraft blasted off from the Jiuquan Satellite Centre in northwestern Gansu province at 5.38 p.m. (3.08 p.m. IST). The spacecraft will dock with the Tiangong space laboratory module — the second manned docking mission after Shenzhou- 9 in June 2012. This mission will be the longest yet for the country’s rapidly advancing space programme, and is seen as a crucial step in plans to build a space station by 2020. China’s space programme is seen as behind only the U.S. and Russia in its feats.

The Shenzhou-9 had created history by carrying into space China’s first woman astronaut, Liu Yang, a People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force pilot. Following in her footsteps is Wang Yaping (33), in charge of monitoring conditions, experiments and taking care of fellow crew members on this mission, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency. Ms. Wang is accompanied by Nie Haisheng (48), a Major General in the PLA who was also a part of the Shenzhou-6 mission in 2005, and Zhang Xiaoguang (47). The veteran astronaut said this mission was the most complex he had seen during his long career. “Compared to the Shenzhou-6 mission, this mission will be longer, with more experiments to be conducted, so it will be a new challenge with greater risks,” Mr. Nie told state media.

During the mission, Ms. Wang will also hold a “space lesson” through video conferencing during which she “will illustrate the phenomena of physics through interactions with the students and teachers on Earth”, Xinhua reported. President Xi Jinping, who was at the launch in Gansu, met the three astronauts earlier on Tuesday. “You made Chinese people feel proud of ourselves,” Mr. Xi told them.

16. THE HAPPINESS QUOTIENT

Gross National Happiness (GNH) has now become a catch phrase for an alternative global discourse of development. Some have even hailed it as a new paradigm of progress. The term was coined by Bhutan’s former king Jigme Wangchuck in 1972; he had opened up the country to modernisation and democracy.

The United Nations General Assembly resolution accepted the need to measure happiness as a significant dimension of human progress. The first United Nations World Happiness Report has been released recently.

GNH has four pillars: the promotion of equitable and sustainable socio-economic development; preservation and promotion of cultural values; conservation of the natural environment; and establishment of good governance. The Prime Minister of Bhutan, Jigmi Thinley, has emphasised the need to translate GNH measures into public policy, which he thinks is not easy. He has pointed out the three core values of peace, security and happiness which should guide GNH, and that the well-being and happiness of all citizens should also be included in the agenda. He has called for a new internalised ethical consciousness to combat consumerism. Many in Bhutan are worried about the country being sucked into an economically and culturally homogenised world which is being globalised by integration of markets and values. Another challenge being perceived is to positively channelise the surge of popular aspirations in Bhutan that will arise with the recent introduction of democracy.

The president of the Center for Bhutan Studies, Dasho Karma Ura, admits that GNH values and indicators need to be better understood by ordinary people. There was a need to have a grassroots and bottoms-up GNH movement in order to acquire more democratic participation for implementation of the government policy.  ccording to Dasho, the results of the recent survey based on elaborate indicators of happiness, revealed that only 23 per cent of the population could fulfil the requirements of happiness. The belief that glorifies exotic poor people leading a ‘simple life’ as happy is not always true in the same way that more affluence does not translate into happiness. In Bhutan, there is a lot of poverty and lack of basic facilities especially as it is difficult to provide public services to remote and inaccessible regions and villages.

Sabina Alkire, director of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, is helping the Center for Bhutan Studies to refine and apply multidimensional measures for poverty. Some of the measures include indicators like psychological wellbeing, cultural wellbeing, time use, governance, community vitality, ecology, education, health and living standards, dignity and shame, participation and insecurity.

Bhutanese scholars have suggested that people living in remote villages were happier than in Thimpu. This, they explain, could be due to low expectation and greater sense of community and belonging in the villages while in the big city there tends to be greater exposure to satellite television and internet leading to greater unfulfilled aspirations and breakdown of a sense of community. Problems of drug and alcohol addiction may rise.

Living in Thimpu with some stress seems to many to be preferable than living in a village because of employment opportunities, facilities like education, hospitals and a sense of freedom (especially for the young) and the excitement of new ideas and learning about other ways of living and being.

17. BIO-ENERGY AND BIO-PLASTICS PRODUCED BY NOVEL METHODS

In the quest for alternative, renewable and eco-friendly fuels, scientists have developed a novel method to produce bio-energy and valueadded products through wastewater treatment.

Senior scientist, Dr. S. Venkata Mohan and his group at IICT, Hyderabad have adopted a biorefinery approach and produced futuristic green fuels, bio-hydrogen and bio-electricity. In the process a value added product that came out — bio-plastics.

Dr. Mohan, who is carrying out extensive research on renewable energy generation through waste water treatment, said the combustion of fossil fuels was adding about six gigatons of carbon per year in the form of CO{-2}. Several factors have led scientists to look for renewable and carbon-neutral forms of energy.

With the aim of developing processes that could be adopted by Effluent Treatment Plants (ETPs) and to achieve objectives of treating water, producing energy as well as value-added products, the scientists have been operating a 50-litre capacity reactor to produce bio-hydrogen and bioplastics under a project funded by the Ministry of Non-Renewable Energy.

He said the efficacy of the process for treating wastewater and producing bio-hydrogen in the 50 litre capacity reactor has already been demonstrated. Now the plan was to scale up the process for producing bio-hydrogen in a 10,000 litre capacity reactor. He said the reactor was being designed and its efficacy would be demonstrated by the middle of next year.

Once that was achieved, he said the ETPs could replace anaerobic reactors to produce the environmentally sustainable bio-hydrogen instead of methane. Currently, bio-methane was being produced by treatment plants of most distilleries and other industries. The sludge that gets generated in the process was being used as fertiliser.

The volatile fatty acids produced along with hydrogen were used as a substrate for bio-plastics synthesis. The value-added bio-plastics at present were being produced at a lab scale. These bioplastics could replace to some extent synthetic plastics in future. “In another 4-5 years, we can upscale the process and demonstrate its efficacy for commercial application,” he added.

He said bio-electricity was being produced from anaerobic bacterial metabolism using microbial fuel cell. The organic form of pollutants in waste water was a good substrate for bacterial growth.

The scientists used an anaerobic reactor with a 100-litre capacity to demonstrate the production of bio-electricity from wastewater. By putting external electrodes in the reactor. “At present, the yield is about 20 per cent. I am trying to improve performance by using various electrode materials. If we catalyse the electrodes, the yields will improve,” Dr. Mohan added.

Significantly, besides generating bioelectricity, the waste treatment efficiency improved vastly through this method, especially with respect to toxicity, carbon and salts removal. “We have named it Bio-electric Chemical Treatment System. We are planning to file a patent application for it.”

18. CHANGE THE CLIMATE FOR INDIA’S POOR

If the great Scott Fitzgerald were to have walked into the grand plenary hall of the Durban climate conference in 2011 to announce once again, “show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy,” all fingers would have pointed to the tiny Indian contingent in the room.

There, Fitzgerald would have caught a glimpse of the feisty Jayanthi Natarajan, Union Minister for Environment and Forests, holding the fort against attempts by developed countries to impose binding emission cuts on the global South. The “greatest tragedy of all time,” Ms Natarajan would herself acknowledge, would be for negotiators to abandon the principles of equity and Common But Differentiated Responsibilities (CBDR). Two years later, this tragedy is imminent — only India’s heroism remains.

The first signs of this tragic denouement were visible a few minutes after the Durban plenary closed. Negotiators from the European Union, the United States and the BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) countries simply huddled together and struck a deal to negotiate an international agreement with legal force on, inter alia , emission cuts by 2015. In this arrangement, known now as the ‘Durban Platform,’ equity and CBDR principles struggled to find relevance. India somehow claimed victory in helping resuscitate the Kyoto Protocol — a treaty rendered worthless without its engagement with the world’s largest carbon emitters, China and the U.S. Throw in a vacuous institution like the Green Climate Fund to save face, and India’s message was clear: we will live to fight another day.

That day is nowhere near the horizon. What is, though, is a perfect storm of international and domestic politics that threatens not only to produce an agreement which fails the imperative to tackle climate change, but also derail India’s core concerns in the process.

‘U.S. intransigence’

The news from Bonn, where U.N. climate negotiators met last month to flesh out details of the 2015 agreement, is not reassuring. The U.S. has proposed a mechanism by which countries define their own “contribution” to emission cuts. Once such contributions have been agreed upon nationally, a peer review mechanism could be put in place for monitoring and compliance. The U.S. submission, which Washington claims is driven by ‘realistic’ expectations, is nothing new. In fact, the narrative of “contributions” takes two steps backward from the language of “commitments” that the Durban platform recognises. Even within this minimalist framework, the U.S. has audaciously called for an agreement that lends “f lexibility” to countries to “update their contributions.”

What is worrisome, however, is the international community’s surprisingly warm reaction to the U.S. proposal this time round. To some extent, this was inevitable. Negotiators in Bonn were well aware that the atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide had neared a staggering 400 parts per million (ppm); a week after their meeting, this threshold was crossed. If the Association of Small Island States (AOSIS), whose very existence hinges on the outcome of these negotiations, had already thrown in the towel for the sake of an(y) agreement, the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) too have joined the chorus. As Sebastian Duyck, an analyst and blogger at the ‘Adopt a Negotiator Project’, observes: “negotiators of many countries have begun to consider how to accommodate U.S. intransigence.” The U.S.’s “bottom-up” proposal, which emphasises national autonomy over multilaterally negotiated commitments, comes too little and too late to achieve any measurable progress in setting the climate clock backwards.

The jury is still out on the fate of equity and CBDR principles — what India refers to as ‘nonnegotiables.’ Over the next two weeks, as negotiators who have returned to Bonn discuss contentious issues relating to reduction targets and technology transfer, differences between the BASIC group and developed countries will be thrown into sharp relief. That said, the European Union’s position, which takes off from the Durban consensus, has evolved to be more accommodative. In its submission to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s Ad Hoc Working Group, the EU calls for a ‘spectrum of commitments’ that is fair and equitable to countries at different levels of growth. Its bottom line is, however, clear: commitments should be comprehensive and legally binding.

‘Sovereignty’ card

India is reluctant to accept either a bottomup or a top-down model — the former, we have rightly argued, offers little to address climate change. Yet, while discussing the issue of binding commitments, we have stubbornly held up the ‘sovereignty’ card, saying it is for none to dictate what India should do to mitigate carbon emissions. This is a fair contention, but New Delhi has set no qualitative or quantitative parameters for the equitable distribution it would take to agree on a legal framework. Taken in sum, the U.S. and EU proposals — along with India’s established position — set the stage for a headon collision in Paris two years from now, the result of which has only been too frequently visible at previous Conferences of the Parties (COPs).

The emerging strategic framework between India and the U.S. is also likely to prove decisive in future climate change talks. The Obama administration could present a possible deal on shale gas exports to India as a carrot in return for a flexible negotiating posture. Unlike the nuclear deal which served a largely symbolic purpose, shale gas exports — which India has sought desperately, given its rapidly depleting fossil fuel sources — are an effective bargaining chip. What lends credence to this theory is the U.S.’s recent courting of China (India’s Man Friday and de facto negotiating partner at COPs) and Japan (which refused to extend its commitments under the Kyoto Protocol after 2012) on climate change. If the U.S.-China Joint Statement on Climate Change, issued during Secretary Kerry’s visit to Beijing in April, is any indication, the U.S. is likely to work with major carbon emitters on a bilateral basis than go through the rigours of multilateral agenda-setting. After all, China, Japan and the U.S. have a mutual interest in seeing the Kyoto Protocol off.

Arguably, the biggest obstacle that stands in India’s way of articulating and achieving its goals at climate change talks is internal politics itself. Much has been said and written about India’s lack of a ‘coherent’ negotiating strategy — there is little doubt that between the COPs at Copenhagen (2009) and Durban (2011), India did a volte face on the issue of emission cuts. That

neither Jairam Ramesh, then Environment Minister, nor Ms Natarajan sought to ‘tie’ India to legally binding commitments is moot. In 2009, we presented a radically different vision of equity — one that departed from the age-old claim that India has had historically low emissions per capita, and thus shouldered little responsibility vis-a-vis developed countries for the damage caused by greenhouse gases. By 2011, we reverted to square one, pretending that the stance at Copenhagen was a result of ‘personality politics.’ Without commenting on the merits of Mr. Ramesh’s views, one must ask why India’s climate change negotiations have lent themselves to internal turf battles between diplomats, bureaucrats and ministers.

This question assumes importance as India prepares to elect a new government next year. Thus far, the United Progressive Alliance could have afforded not to institutionalise internal deliberations in India’s climate diplomacy. Ultimately, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the Union Cabinet were able to paper over differences between negotiators. Since 2007, when the Bali Roadmap was announced, the same handful of policymakers has decided India’s negotiating strategy on an ad hoc basis. But the luxury of continuity is short-lived: it is far from certain whether the incumbent will remain in power after 2014. In particular, a fractured mandate, prone to federalist compulsions, can have serious consequences on India’s empty-shell position on climate change.

Two years stand between the Bonn Conference and COP 21 in Paris, where negotiators are expected to churn out a legal instrument. For now, India’s stance runs contradictory to its desire to confront climate change.

If our future per capita emissions are likely to be small compared to other industrial economies, of what use are voluntary ‘green initiatives’ without having major emitters on board? A new report by the International Displacement Monitoring Center has put a number on people displaced by climate-induced disasters in 2012. The tally reads thus: India 8.9 million, European Union 0. Yet India continues to press, almost unconscionably, for “incentives” to be part of a climate deal. We will be one of the worst-affected when the effects of global warming precipitate; our reactive climate diplomacy conveniently ignores this truth.

New Delhi would do well to reassess its notion of equity, as other developing nations have rightfully done. When, in 2011, Ethiopia announced its intentions to be ‘carbon neutral’ by 2025, it effectively abandoned the premise that low emitters can forever point fingers at industrialised countries. Just as developed nations bear responsibility to assume more ambitious commitments, India should treat its differentially positioned population in equitable terms. The pernicious effects of climate change will be most acute among India’s vulnerable sections. If the West owes a historic obligation to the rest in confronting climate change, so too does India towards its impoverished.

19. U.K. TO PAY £20 MILLION FOR MAU MAU ATROCITY

Britain is to pay £20 million in compensation to Kenyans tortured by its colonial forces for alleged role in the Mau Mau rebellion in the 1950s and 1960s opening the door for similar payouts to victims of the “raj”. It has also acknowledged for the first time that Kenyans were “subject to torture, and other forms of ill-treatment at the hands of the colonial administration”, and apologised for the abuses. The move, announced by Foreign Secretary William Hague, follows a High Court verdict allowing three elderly Kenyans to go ahead with legal action demanding compensation. The verdict led to a settlement between the government and the victims’ lawyers. Describing it as a “significant” moment, the legal team for the three claimants said they had got “justice they have sought for many years”. 5,228 victims would receive £19.9 million. But he insisted that Britain was not legally liable for the actions of the local colonial administration.

20. FINANCE MINISTRY SEEKS COMMENTS ON FSLRC RECOMMENDATIONS

Reserve Bank of India Governor D.Subbarao’s observations made it clear that the apex bank and the government were not on the same page on ways of ensuring financial sector stability, the Finance Ministry on Thursday invited comments and suggestions from all stakeholders on the report of the Financial Sector Legislative Reforms Commission (FSLRC).

Interestingly, the Ministry’s move has come after a long gap. The Commission, headed by retired Supreme Court judge B. N. Srikrishna, presented its report to the government on March 22 this year and it was placed in the public domain on the Finance Ministry’s website on March 28.

In its report, the FSLRC had called for radical reforms in the financial sector with a total overhaul of the system by way of merging the oversight functions of all regulators of market, commodity, insurance and pension sectors. Justifying his recommendations, Justice Srikrishna, in his report, said: “By the year 2020- 25, we hope to achieve $13-14 trillion economy. An ambition cannot be achieved unless there are steps taken towards it. Therefore, you need something that is drastic, something that is total overhaul of the existing financial system”.

Apart from calling for creation of a Unified Financial Authority (UFA) to subsume the functions of key regulators, the FSLRC also recommended the setting up of a Monetary Policy Committee to determine the policy interest rate.


21. PANEL TO ASSESS COMPETITIVENESS OF FINANCIAL SECTOR

The government constituted a Standing Council of Experts under the chairmanship of the Department of Economic Affairs (DEA) Secretary to assess the international competitiveness of the Indian financial sector.The council, set up in accordance with the announcement made by Finance Minister P. Chidambaram in his Budget speech for this fiscal, will examine various pecuniary and non-pecuniary transaction costs and burdens of doing business in the Indian market and make recommendations for enhancing its competitiveness.

Apart from the Economic Affairs Secretary as Chairperson, the Chief Economic Advisor (CEA) in the Finance Ministry as member and alternate chair, and DEA Joint Secretary (Capital Markets) as Convener-Member Secretary, other members of the council include Prime Database Chairman Prithvi Haldea, GTI Group board member Madhav Dhar, CARE India Chairman Nachiket Mor, Booz and Company ex-CEO Shumeet Banerji, Jahangir Aziz of JP Morgan, NSE Vice-Chairman Ravi Narain, VSG Capital Advisors CEO Vikram Gandhi, Susan Thomas of IGIDR, Shubhashis Gangopadhyay of India Development Foundation, and V. Ravi Anshuman of IIM Bangalore.

The Chairperson may also invite any such person for any of the meetings of the council “whose presence is deemed necessary for achieving the objectives of the council.”

As for the terms of reference of the council, the standing panel of experts will analyse the international competitiveness of the domestic financial sector and comprehensively examine various pecuniary and non-pecuniary costs of doing business through Indian capital/financial markets. These include transactions costs such as brokerage fee, applicable tax rates and documentation requirements as compared to other competing destinations and accordingly make recommendations aimed at achieving competitiveness.

Besides, the council will examine related policy and operating frameworks and the performance of various segments of the Indian capital and financial markets, and make its recommendations aimed at improving competitiveness and efficiency, as also the completeness of these markets in terms of fully meeting client needs as per global standards through provision of requisite services and financial instruments.

Alongside, the council will also suggest reform measures aimed at enhancing transparency, promoting development of and strengthening governance in the Indian capital markets and the financial sector while ensuring that risks are contained and investor interests are protected.

According to the statement, while thecouncil is expected to hold meetings at least once in two months to meet the stated objectives, the government “would have the right to reconstitute/discontinue the council at any time, without any notice or attribution of any reasons.”


Last Updated on Friday, 08 November 2013 05:12
 

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