The HINDU Notes – 18th February 2018 - VISION

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Sunday, February 18, 2018

The HINDU Notes – 18th February 2018

📰 Sex ratio at birth dips in 17 of 21 large States, Gujarat records 53 points fall

Gujarat is followed by Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Maharashtra, Himachal Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Karnataka

•The sex ratio at birth (SRB) saw a decline in 17 out of 21 large States of the country, with Gujarat recording an alarming dip of 53 points, a report released by the Niti Aayog stated and stressed on the need to check sex-selective abortion.

•According to the report, among the 17 States which recorded substantial drop of 10 points or more, in Gujarat the SRB fell to 854 females from 907 females per 1,000 males born registering a drop of 53 points from 2012-14 (base year) to 2013-15 (reference year) in this indicator.

•Gujarat is followed by Haryana, which registered a drop of 35 points, Rajasthan (32 points), Uttarakhand (27 points), Maharashtra (18 points), Himachal Pradesh (14 points), Chhattisgarh (drop of 12 points), and Karnataka (11 points), the ‘Healthy States, Progressive India’ report states.

•“There is a clear need for states to effectively implement the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostic Techniques (PCPNDT) Act, 1994 and take appropriate measures to promote the value of the girl child,” the report stated.

•According to the report, improvement in SRB was witnessed in Punjab, which registered a rise of 19 points, followed by Uttar Pradesh (10 points) and Bihar (9 points).

•“Sex ratio at birth is an important indicator and reflects the extent to which there is reduction in number of girl children born by sex-selective abortions,” the report added.

📰 Chabahar will be a golden gateway, says Narendra Modi

India, Iran agree to make transit and trade the core of bilateral relations

•Iran on Saturday joined hands with India to promote connectivity through the port of Chabahar and asked the United States to respect territorial sovereignty.

•Welcoming the Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged for closer cooperation in the fields of energy, banking and countering terrorism.

Common views on issues

•“On important bilateral and international issues, we have no divergence. Today, we discussed our agreements and the future course of action on Chabahar and India’s contribution to the Chabahar-Zahedan railways,” said President Rouhani in his speech at the end of bilateral talks with Prime Minister Modi and official delegates.

•Both sides agreed on making transit and trade the core of bilateral ties and emphasised the role of Chabahar in serving as a door to the landlocked Afghanistan.

•Mr. Modi described Chabahar as the “golden gateway to Afghanistan and the Central Asian region.”

•Expressing a common resolve to go ahead with developing the area around the port of Chabahar, a joint statement at the end of the visit said, “The Iranian side welcomed the investment of the Indian side in setting up plants in sectors such as fertilizers, petrochemicals and metallurgy in the Chabahar FTZ.”

•“Might is not the criterion to be right as there are other criteria also. Our destiny was in the hands of the U.S. for a long period of time,” said President Rouhani, addressing the Observer Research Foundation. “The U.S. made a promise to us and they have broken it. If it violates this agreement (n-deal), you will see it will regret it,” he added.

•In order to simplify trade and banking practices between the two sides, the joint statement informed that, “permission for the Iranian Pasargad bank to open a branch in India was under advance consideration.”

•Both sides have also agreed to set up a Joint Committee of officials to examine feasible options including a rupee-rial arrangement to avoid hindrances in bilateral commercial mechanism.

•As part of security-related issues, both sides discussed the wars in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan and expressed a common resolve to counter terrorism.

•“They urged an immediate end to all support and sanctuaries enjoyed by terrorist groups and individuals and were of the view that States that aid, abet and directly or indirectly support terrorism should be condemned,” said the joint statement.

•However, MEA officials maintained that the issue of former Indian Navy official Kulbhushan Jadhav who India said was kidnapped by Pakistani agents from the Iranian territory did not figure in the official discussions.

•President Rouhani came out in full support of India’s role at the United Nations and said New Delhi should have a permanent membership at the Security Council.

•“At the time of formation of the UN, only countries that had a nuclear bomb had the right to veto. If it was based on fairness, it would not have been so. Foreign policy is based on power. The question is what is the meaning of this veto power? Why does India not have a veto power? It’s not based on fairness and is based only on might is right”, said President Rouhani at the public lecture.

📰 Rajasthan to get full share of Yamuna waters

Dispute with Haryana resolved

•Rajasthan will get its full share of 1.119 billion cusec metres of water from the Yamuna, with the Upper Yamuna Review Committee deciding over the weekend that 1,917 cusecs water will be released from the Tajewala headworks to Jhunjhunu, Churu and Sikar districts for drinking and irrigation. With this decision, the dispute between Rajasthan and Haryana over the sharing of Yamuna waters, as per an agreement signed between the Chief Ministers of five States in 1994, has been resolved.

Allocated 9% share

•Though Rajasthan was allocated 9% share in the Yamuna waters, the desert State was not getting it even when excess water was available in the river between July and October every year.

•The State will get its full share of water from Tajewala and Okhla headworks.

•A detailed project report will be prepared shortly for bringing water from Tajewala to Rajasthan at an estimated expenditure of ₹20,000 crore.

•Rajasthan Water Resources Minister Ram Pratap, who attended the meeting, said the State’s share in Yamuna waters would be reserved even after the construction of Lakhwar, Kishau and Renuka dams. “This will be very important for Rajasthan which is always facing water shortage,” he said.

📰 Let there be a Lokpal for judges: Prashant Bhushan

•An independent ‘judicial Lokpal’ with power to take up complaints and initiate action against judges should be set up to ensure accountability of the judiciary, senior advocate Prashant Bhushan said here on Saturday.

•“There should be an independent institution for lodging complaints against judges. The institution should be independent from both the judiciary and the government like a judicial Lokpal,” said Mr. Bhushan.

•He was addressing a conference in the city’s Jadavpur University held for the launch of the West Bengal Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms (WBCJAR). The WBCJAR will be affiliated to the Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms (CJAR) led by Mr. Bhushan.

•“There should be an independent selection committee, similar to the one for selecting the Jan Lokpal, for appointment of the judicial Lokpal which will have complete power to entertain complaints against judges and take action,” he said.

•Mr. Bhushsan alleged that the independence of the judiciary was being undermined for several reasons: the absence of any concrete system to ensure their accountability; post-retirement jobs granted by the Centre and the government’s power to grant funding for foreign trips.

•Accusing the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Centre of “promoting and patronising” a culture of “telling lies and spreading fake information”, Mr. Bhushan said that ensuring the independence of the judiciary has become even more important in such a situation.

•“In such a situation the role of the Supreme Court becomes more important than ever,” said Mr. Bhushan.

📰 What is the lowdown on industrial renewal

What is it?

•Industrial activity, as measured by the government’s Index of Industrial Production (IIP) and the private sector Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), has improved significantly over the last two months. Growth in the IIP soared to 8.8% in November, the highest since October 2015, and stood at a slightly slower but still robust 7.07% in December. These two instances mark a return to above 5% growth after a year. Within the IIP, growth was largely driven by the manufacturing sector, which grew 10.7% and 8.4% in November and December respectively. Similarly, the PMI surged to a 60-month high of 54.7 in December and came in at 52.4 in January. These two sets of data are interesting because not only do they show the picture from both the government and private sector sides but also highlight different elements of the sectors they measure. While the IIP is an output measure, the PMI is an indication of the activity at the input, or purchasing, level. If both show strong growth, the implication is an overall recovery in industrial activity and sentiments.

How did it come about?

•Given that the average growth in the IIP in financial year 2017-18 prior to November was only 2.5%, the months of November and December certainly stand out as outliers. To understand what happened in these two months, it is important to understand what happened before.

•The November 2016 demonetisation had a major impact on industrial activity. For example, growth in the IIP was a relatively robust 5% in November 2016, but slowed to 1.2% by February 2017. Activity resumed thereafter, but was hit again by the prospect of the Goods and Services Tax and then its fallout.

•Industrial activity contracted in June because firms halted production to get rid of their stock in preparation for the GST, which rolled out on July 1. Similarly, July saw only 1% growth as companies came to terms with the new tax regime. A combination of the impending festive season and the re-stocking of inventory led companies to increase their activity thereafter, with a recovering global economy boosting exports, which further propelled industrial growth in November and December. There were other factors at play, such as companies getting increasingly comfortable with the GST regime, the government taking steps to ease the woes of exporters who saw a large chunk of their working capital tied up because of the input tax credit system, domestic demand recovering somewhat, and the government investing heavily in roads.

Why does it matter?

•The recovery in manufacturing and in the overall industrial sector should come as some relief to the government, which has come under criticism for the impact demonetisation and the hurried roll-out of GST had on economic growth. Economic growth itself is expected to increase, with private sector analysts and economists saying there are signs of a recovery. With economic growth should come job creation that is needed. However, it is worth keeping in mind that the IIP and the PMI measure only the formal sector. Several accounts say the informal sector, a very large segment of the economy that accounts for significant employment, is still recovering from the effects of demonetisation. That effect has not been effectively measured, and any talk of a recovery leaves the informal sector out.

What next?

•A significant part of the recovery is based on how the global economy does. Any dip there will have a detrimental effect on India’s exports which, in turn, will dampen industrial growth. Recently, U.S. President Donald Trump spoke against India for imposing a “tremendous tax” on the import of Harley Davidson motorcycles, pitching for a “reciprocal tax” in the U.S. Whether this happens or not, such statements add to the uncertainty over Indian exports. That said, most commentators do say there are signs of recovery in the economy and in the manufacturing sector in particular.

📰 Odisha places wish list before NITI Aayog

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik asks for restoration of special KBK plan, Backward Region Grant among others

•The Odisha government on Saturday told the NITI Aayog that the State wanted restoration of central assistance for special KBK (Kalahandi-Bolangir-Koraput) plan, Integrated Action Plan and Backward Region Grant Fund, besides a hike in the Centre’s share in the State Disaster Response Fund and revision of coal royalty, official sources said.

•The State’s requirements and demands were placed before the NITI Aayog during a meeting between the Aayog’s Vice-Chairman Rajiv Kumar and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik at the State secretariat here.

Coal royalty

•Apart from demanding revision of coal royalty, Mr. Patnaik sought opening of bank branches in 4,376 unbanked gram panchayats in the State. He also reiterated Odisha’s demand for special category status, the sources said.

•During the discussion, Mr. Patnaik urged Mr. Kumar to expand mobile network in 11,200 villages and broadband connectivity in the Left wing extremism-hit districts of the State.

•The Chief Minister said the NDA II government at the Centre has stopped central assistance for special plan for poverty stricken KBK region and there was no allocation under IAP and BRGF which the Centre was earlier funding.

•He also demanded a hike in the Centre’s share in the SDRF from 75% to 90% with effect from July 1, 2017, the sources said.

•Mr. Patnaik said that there is a need to relax norms under the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana for 38 extremism-hit blocks in the State and demanded adequate funds for development and maintenance of national highways.

Railway projects

•The Chief Minister told Mr. Kumar that the Railways should speed up the execution of its projects in the State.

•“The Pradhan Mantri Matru Vandana Yojana, modelled on the lines of Odisha’s flagship MAMTA scheme, needs certain modifications for wider coverage of beneficiaries,” the sources quoted Mr. Patnaik as suggesting.

•The Chief Minister said the Amritsar-Kolkata industrial corridor may be extended up to Visakhapatnam to connect it to deep water ports. It would also facilitate strategic link between various industrial corridors of the country and there should be advance intimation of the annual allocation for the central sponsored scheme.

📰 PSBs need private participation: CEA

Cites ‘strong cases’ to substantiate his call in the wake of recent episodes in the banking system

•Strong cases have emerged to seek increased regulation and private sector participation in public sector banks in the wake of recent episodes, including the Punjab National Bank scam, said Chief Economic Adviser Arvind Subramanian.

•Citing recent incidents in the Indian banking system such as the Punjab National Bank loan fraud, Bank of Baroda’s South Africa exit plan and SBI’s higher provisioning for bad debts, Mr. Subramanian said that the key was how to take advantage of these events and make policies to ensure that these did not happen again.

•Mr. Subramanian was delivering the inaugural address at the Madras Management Association Annual convention 2018 here on Saturday.

•“The big public sector banks, which we thought were reasonably efficiently run, have got into trouble. So, the question is: how do you change this going forward?” he said.

•Mr. Subramanian said that the possibility of allowing a much greater majority private sector participation in the public sector banks must be seriously considered.

•Taxpayers’ money was used to recapitalise the public sector banks, which had been facing the high non- performing assets problem. “The question is, are we getting enough value for this taxpayer money and will this taxpayer money be better protected in the current government ownership structure or will it require a different policy structure?” Mr. Subramanian said. “The government also realises that some banks are unviable and need to be shrunk. There are three strong cases which have emerged for private participation in public sector banks. I am not saying all public sector banks should be privatised,” he said.

‘Reform practices’

•The CEA said some people had suggested that the public sector banks’ governance practices should be reformed first before looking at private participation.

•“But we have been at it for 30-40 years. What is the guarantee that what is recommended now will be implemented more effectively than in the past?” he asked.

•One of the strong cases for private participation in public sector banks was that they were “handicapped” in terms of recruitment procedures and HR procedures due to their ownership, when compared with their private sector peers.

•Decision making in the Indian government was paralysed by the fear of four Cs — Court, CBI, CVC and CAG, he said. “These are four overhanging fruits over honest decision making, affected by the government structure,” the CEA said. One of the problems was that during the boom period it was PSBs that had financed the infrastructure sector and got into trouble. They are now finding it difficult to get out of the situation, he added.

📰 Sundarbans mangroves struggle to find new ground

Unique ecosystem that hosts a sizeable tiger population is unable to expand due to developmental pressures and sea level rise

•The India State of Forest Report (SFR) 2017 published recently has revealed that the mangrove cover in the country has increased by 181 sq km. But the Indian Sunderbans that comprise almost 43% of total mangrove cover have shown only a marginal rise of 8 sq km, at 2,114 sq km from 2,106 sq km in the 2015 SFR report.

•This is in spite of large scale planting of mangroves by the State Forest department and NGOs over many years. The latest figures raise the question of whether enhanced human pressures on the only mangrove forest that harbours a healthy tiger population is affecting the ecosystem.

•Unlike the rest of the country, large areas of mangrove forest in the Indian Sunderbans fall under Sunderban Tiger Reserve where human activities are prohibited. The Indian part of Sunderbans covers 4,263 sq km out of which 2,584 sq km is core and buffer area of the tiger reserve.

•A detailed understanding of the threat to the mangroves of Indian Sunderbans has been highlighted in a ‘State of Art Report on Biodiversity in Indian Sundarbans’ published by World Wide Fund for Nature, India (WWF).

•The publication reveals that along with climate change, the mangroves are threatened by habitat degradation due to industrial pollution and human disturbance, fuel-wood collection and lack of any high elevation spaces for the mangrove species to regenerate and thrive.

•The report states that it is a matter of concern that if the present rates of change prevail, the Sundarbans mangroves could disappear as the sea level rises. This is because the forest’s natural response to retreat further inland is blocked by geographical features and man-made obstructions.

•Experts like former director of Sundarban Tiger Reserve and a specialist in mangrove conservation, Subrat Mukherjee, and botanists like P. Venu, Neera Sen Sarkar and Anirban Saha who have authored the chapter on Mangroves & Associated Flora put the number of mangrove and associated flora species in the region at 180.

New mangrove areas

•The authors have suggested a “rehabilitation of former mangrove areas and creation of new mangrove habitations through intensified afforestation programmes.”

•Ratul Saha of the WWF, one of the authors of the publication, pointed out that the threat to each mangrove species varies in magnitude and it is important to fill these knowledge gaps through more research.

•Of the 180 mangrove and associated species or halophytes (plants adapted to growing in saline conditions), 34 are true mangroves, of which 19 are major mangroves and 15, minor mangroves.

•The species diversity of halophytes of Indian Sunderbans is recorded as 71 mangrove associates, 30 back mangroves, six species of epiphytes and parasites, 23 grass and sedges, four ferns and 12 herbaceous plants.

•Mangroves are classified as plants having salt tolerance mechanisms like salt glands, aerial roots in the form of pneumatophores and viviparous germination (germinating before detaching from parent).

•They grow mostly in the inter-tidal spaces and are dispersed by water buyout propagules (seeds or spores).

•There are several prominent mangrove specis.

•Heritiera fomes or Sundari trees from which the Sundarbans draws its name, has a very restricted distribution in South Asia and is classified as Endangered in the IUCN Red list.

•The publication lists five species of mangroves whose status, as per the IUCN Red List, ranges from Near Threatened to Critically Endangered. Sonneratia griffithii, one of the tallest trees of the Sunderbans referred to as Keora by locals is critically endangered while Ceriops decandra (Goran) is Near Threatened. C. decandra and Avicennia (locally known as Bain) are gathered in violation of law for supplementing fuel wood requirements by the residents.

•Species like Xylocarpus granatum, which has a traditional medicinal use in treatment of cholera, diarrhoea and fever is also one of the species which faces threat due to illegal felling.

•Among the many associates of mangrove, which grow as climbers and shrubs, some are used for firewood. The other category of flora, back mangroves, are not found in inter-tidal areas colonised by true mangroves. Excoecaria agallocha, commonly called Goria found towards the mainland along the small canal is one common example.

•Among the salt marshes of Sunderbans, Sesuvium portulacastrum, with thick, fleshy leaves borne on succulent, reddish-green stems is a pioneer species. Salt marshes are found hosting the mangrove fern Acrostichum aureum.

Orchids disappear

•The WWF publication points that among the twelve orchid species reported in the past from Sunderbans, most can no longer to found.

•Climate change is being attributed to the decline of mangrove species worldwide and the authors emphasise the importance of involving the local population in conservation, keeping in mind the limited livelihood options and the extreme climate events that they have to grapple with.

•The population density of the Indian Sunderbans outside the Tiger Reserve area is 1,000 people per sq km, and there is high malnourishment reported from here.

•Ajanta Dey, joint secretary of Nature Environment and Wildlife Society, an NGOworking for mangrove conservation, said that over the past few years 4,000 hectares of mangroves were planted by the organisation in the Sunderbans.

Cleared for fisheries

•Ms. Dey said illegal clearing of forests for fisheries has turned out to be a major issue over the past few years.

•She said that large areas in North 24 Parganas have been cleared for fisheries, and as per the report, only 26 sq km of mangroves remain there. South 24 Parganas district which has the highest mangrove area of 2,084 sq km has only shown an increase of 7 sq km.

•Nationally, the SFR 2017 report estimates the maximum increase of mangrove cover from three States, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat.

•While the maximum increase of 82 sq km has been recorded in Maharashtra, where Thane district alone has witnessed an increase of 31 sq km, Raigarh has 29 sq km and Mumbai Suburban, 16 sq km.

•Andhra Pradesh has seen a rise of 37 sq km in the SFR survey, done every two years, with districts like Guntur and Krishna contributing the most.

•Gujarat’s tally rose by 33 sq km in Bhavnagar, Junagarh, Kutch and Jamnagar districts.

•In all three states, the increase has been attributed to plantation and regeneration.

•Tamil Nadu found an increase of 2 sq km of mangroves, taking the extent of such forests to 49 sq km, as recorded in the FSR report.

•Among the striking features of Tamil Nadu’s efforts is that Nagapattinam district recorded a decrease of 16 sq km while Tiruvarur district posted a rise of 16 sq km.

•Districts like Cuddalore, Pudukkottai and Thoothukudi also have recorded a small increase of 1 sq km of mangrove cover each, compared to 2015.

•Ramanathapuram district found its cover decreasing by one sq km.

📰 Where a temple fire put spotlight on safety measures

•A fire at a shop near the 14th century Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple in Madurai has brought to light the woefully inadequate fire-fighting measures in busy temples. On an average, over 15,000 people visit the temple daily on weekdays and over 25,000 on Friday.

What happened?

•On February 2, around 10 p.m., smoke billowed from one of the shops in the Veeravasantharayar Mandapam of the eastern corridor of the Sundareswarar Sannidhi. In 20 minutes, the fire spread to other shops. These shops sell vibuthi, kumkum, sandal paste, toys, pictures, puja articles and decorative items. This mandapam was constructed by Muthuveerappa Nayakkar in 1611 and leads to the East Tower. The corridor is always crowded as people who visit the temple make it a point to stop to buy many items, especially kumkum.

Why is it a worry?

•The row of shops is close to the temple museum, Thousand Pillar Hall, that houses outstanding stone sculptures, rare bronzes and artistic paintings. Tourists are attracted to the museum in large numbers by a group of pillars that produces musical notes when struck in an order.

How was the fire put out?

•A temple employee, who noticed the fire, got a fire extinguisher, which was not enough to check the spread. The challenge was multi-pronged: to contain the flames from spreading into the temple and the museum, protect sculptures from damage, and prevent the loss of life. The fire happened when almost all devotees had left the temple. Getting fire engines to wind through narrow passages, especially when power supply was cut off, proved difficult. The temple has five points through which devotees enter and exit and four of them are narrow. Though fire incidents have been reported in some of the big temples in Tamil Nadu, this was unprecedented for the Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple.

Has there been damage?

•As the flames reached the ceiling, gobbling up all plastic materials, the temperature shot up. When water jets reached the ceiling and tall pillars that were already hot, they started to show cracks. Portions of the side wings of the ceiling and a few pillars came crashing down. Twenty one of the 42 shops in the Veeravasantharayar Mandapam were gutted. The side wings suffered the maximum damage but the main roof remained intact. Ten to 12 pillars of the structure, which has 46 in all, will have to be replaced. An area of 15,000 square feet has been damaged, according to Karumuttu T. Kannan, administrator of the temple. The day after, the area was cordoned off and people were not allowed to use the East Tower as there was fear of the stone structures coming down. Props were put in place to support the ceiling and pillars. Pujas were not stopped, and devotees visited the temple through the other towers.

Are fire safety measures in place?

•The temple has fire extinguishers but they are of no use when flames hit the ceiling. Longer hoses are required to put out fires in the interiors where vehicles cannot enter. There is no fire safety drill either for employees or devotees. The nearest fire station is a few kilometres away. Fire/emergency exits have not been identified in big temples like the Meenakshi Sundareswarar Temple. Another constraint is the non-availability of adequate water. The situation becomes difficult owing to the presence of plastic materials, camphor, oil and ghee in a temple. As a first step to ensure safety, the temple administration has decided not to allow shops in the complex.

•Deputy Chief Minister O. Panneerselvam, after an inspection of the site, said the government would form a committee to protect temples from disasters. Construction of special fire stations at places of cultural importance would also be considered. Collector K. Veera Raghava Rao announced a 12-member team, led by Arun Menon, Associate Professor, Indian Institute of Technology-Madras, to assess the damage and assist in the restoration.