The HINDU Notes – 27th February 2018 - VISION

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

The HINDU Notes – 27th February 2018






πŸ“° Don’t discount WaSH

It is too early to reject the link between sanitation and stunting

•The recent article “Can sanitation reduce stunting?” (The Hindu, February 15) brought forth an important and interesting debate on sanitation that has been attracting considerable traction among health, nutrition and social researchers and policymakers around the world, more so in the lower and middle income (LAMI) countries. The article touched upon many dimensions and possible reasons to explain why Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WaSH) trials in countries like Kenya and Bangladesh ended, disappointingly, with no palpable reduction in stunting among children.

Problem of open defecation

•While these countries are dramatically different from India, and open defecation remains a persistent problem despite sustained and concerted efforts under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan (SBA) campaign over the last few years, the very fact that over half (about 52%) of rural India still defecates in the open is still a reason why it may be too early to quash or discount SBA. The campaign is beyond mere construction of toilets. The importance it accords to cleanliness, hygiene and sanitation can go a long way in India’s fight against not only stunting (low height for age) but also many other forms of malnutrition.

•Stunting is driven by multiple factors, one of which is inflammation. Inflammation is a normal biological response of body tissues to stimuli such as disease-causing bacteria (pathogens), but ironically repeated exposure to high doses of bacteria that are not linked with diseases or diarrhoea also cause inflammation. Children living in environments where hygiene is poor and open defecation is common are regularly exposed to high doses of bacteria that will not cause diarrhoea or frank gastrointestinal infections, but certainly stimulate low-grade chronic inflammation, as observed in one of our studies wherein 2- to 5-year-old children had higher total bacterial count and inflammatory markers compared to those reported from other countries. Inflammation down regulates growth factors, and thus impairs normal growth in children. Mothers with inflammation in the gestation tissues had smaller babies in our study.

•When the effect of poor sanitation is obviously passing on from one generation to the other, it might take at least a generation to adopt WaSH interventions before their outcomes can be seen. Therefore, short-term trials like the ones in Kenya and Bangladesh are bound to show little or no effect. In addition, in India, where the baseline, unlike in those countries, is so large (over 50% of open defecation against 1% in Bangladesh) even small improvements can demonstrate significant and palpable changes. For that matter, the difference in prevalence of open defecation in urban (7%) and rural (52%) India is large and the figures of stunting are much lower in urban children than among their rural counterparts. This difference may not necessarily establish the cause-and-effect relationship but it certainly indicates that toilets and sanitation are important factors associated with stunting.

The Bangladesh way

•It is indeed true that mere building of toilets cannot prompt people to use them as there are a lot of social, cultural and behavioural aspects attached to it. What we need to learn from Bangladesh is how they have managed to bring down open defecation to less than 1% by 2016, from a whopping 42%, in a little over a decade. Bangladesh’s sanitation victory definitely did not come easy. A huge chunk of public and charity money was spent on building toilets, and campaign volunteers slogged to change public attitudes and habits. Children were used literally as whistle-blowers and agents of change while door-to-door campaigns were carried out. It was done in a dogged campaign in mission mode supported by 25% of the country’s overall development budget. Given its vastness, diversity and varied views, India may take time to change, but let us not think all is pointless with WaSH, and nothing is working.

πŸ“° HC: Do not deny cover for genetic defect

•In a significant judgment, the Delhi High Court on Monday termed “unconstitutional” discrimination in health insurance policies of individuals with genetic disorders.

•Justice Prathiba M. Singh said a person suffering from a genetic disorder needed medical insurance as much as others. Genetic disorders have been the source of debate in the health insurance sector.

πŸ“° ‘Assam-Arunachal can resolve border dispute’

Says Minister attending Nyokum Yullo festival in Itanagar

•Assam Minister Ranjit Dutta, who was in Itanagar to attend a tribal festival, exuded confidence that the decades-old boundary dispute between the two States, both BJP-ruled, can be resolved through “meaningful” dialogue.

Permanent solution

•Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal has been initiating measures with his Arunachal counterpart Pema Khandu to hammer out a permanent solution to the border issue, the Assam Irrigation Minister said on Monday in his address at the Nyokum Yullo festival here.

•The festival is celebrated by the Nyishi community of Arunachal Pradesh every year to invoke God’s blessings for good harvest and communal harmony.

•Clad in Nyishi Bopia (headgear), Mr. Dutta, who attended the festival on behalf of Mr. Sonowal, said, “Prime Minister Narendra Modi is serious about the dispute between Northeast States, so is Sonowal. The Chief Minister has already initiated a similar dialogue with his Nagaland counterpart T.R. Zeliang.”

•Stating that “divisive forces” were trying to “destabilise peace” in Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, Mr. Dutta called upon the people of both the States to thwart such attempts.

‘Cordial relations’

•“Till 1978 both the States (Assam and Arunachal Pradesh) were under one administrative unit of ‘bor Axom’ (Greater Assam). The people of both States since time immemorial have been maintaining cordial relations,” the Minister said.

•Mr. Dutta called upon the Assamese people staying in Arunachal Pradesh to uphold the age-old relations through cultural exchange programmes.

•Lauding the Nyishi community for preserving the age-old culture and traditions, Mr. Dutta exhorted the elderly people in the State to pass on the baton of tradition and culture to the younger generations.

•Nyokum Yullo Celebration Committee chairman Ha Tatu, on his part, said the presence of a Minister from neighbouring Assam will cement the ties between the people of the two States.

πŸ“° ‘No time frame for Cauvery Board’

It is a difficult task and I do not want to give an assurance on it, says Gadkari

•Union Minister for Water Resources Nitin Gadkari on Monday was non-committal on a possible time frame for the constitution of the Cauvery Management Board (CMB), as mandated by the Supreme Court.

•Stating that the panel was “in the process now,” the Minister said, “We are very sensitive and very cautious about water problem in Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and even in Karnataka.”

•Interacting with journalists at the office of The Hindu here, Mr. Gadkari refused to be drawn into specifics when asked if the Centre had a time frame for establishing the CMB.

•“We respect the decision of the Supreme Court. Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, they are like two eyes for us. And water is a crucial problem,” the MInister said, adding, “I am a farmer and I know what the problem of the drinking water and irrigation in my area Vidarbha (where over 10,000 farmer suicides happened). So, I am very keenly interested. (I) Will find out some way out.”

•Cautious approach

•However, Mr. Gadkari indicated that the process may not be easy. “It is a very difficult task and it is not a very easy question. But, my track record is whatever I have taken in the hands, I have completed the project. But, it is a big task. I do not want to give any assurance for that,” he said.

•Unlike his other portfolios of Transport and Shipping, work in the water was “not so easy”, the Minister said and added that he needed help from the Finance Ministry for projects.

Pet projects

•Mr. Gadkari said the Centre was keen on implementing two major projects — diverting water from the Godavari to the Cauvery and the Polavaram project, in its attempt to cater to the water needs of Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.

•About 3,000 tmc ft of water in the Godavari was going to the sea and the aim was to save at least 700 tmc ft by diverting it to the Cauvery through two dams at a cost of about Rs. 1 lakh crore. The other plan was the Rs. 60,000 crore Polavaram project, which he said would be completed before March next year.

•The Detailed Project Reports (DPR) for both the projects would be prepared by next month and the suggestions from the Chief Ministers concerned would be taken. The Centre was also looking at low-interest loans from lenders such as the Asian Development Bank.

•Union Minister of State for Shipping and Finance Pon. Radhakrishnan and The Hindu Editor Mukund Padmanabhan were present during the interaction.

•The Minister said he was hopeful that the Motor Vehicles Act (Amendment) Bill, 2017 would be passed in the Rajya Sabha, as it had been passed in the Lok Sabha,despite opposition from some MPs.

πŸ“° SC seeks details on over-crowded prisons

Court to hear issues on abject conditions in jail

•The Supreme Court has asked the National Legal Services Authority (NALSA) to provide details and figures of prisons where the occupancy rate is over 150% as on December 31, 2017.

•A three-judge Bench led by Justice Madan B. Lokur has further asked NALSA Director Surinder S. Rathi to provide the number of posts lying vacant in major prisons across the country. The top court is hearing a matter relating to inhuman conditions prevailing in 1,382 prisons across the country.

•The apex court further agreed to hear issues related to standard operating procedure for Under Trial Review Committees (UTRCs) and responses received from States and Union Territories on open jails on March 27.

•The UTRCs, set up in every district, deliberates and recommends the release of undertrial prisoners and convicts who have completed their sentences or are entitled to be released from jail due to bail or remission granted to them.

•Semi-open prisons or open prisons allow convicts to work outside the jail premises and earn a livelihood and return in the evening. The concept was brought in to assimilate the convicts with society and reduce the psychological pressure and lack of confidence they faced lack of confidence in returning to lives outside prison.

For open prisons

•On September 15, last year, a Supreme Court judgment had encouraged the need for open prisons. It had urged for steps like the appointment of counsellors and support persons for prisoners, particularly first-time offenders.

•The apex court had suggested steps like more family visits for prisoners and use of phones and video-conferencing not only between a prisoner and family, but also his lawyers.

•The court had directed the State Legal Services Authorities (SLSAs) to conduct a study and performance audit of prisons. It wanted the government to constitute a Board of Visitors which includes eminent members of society to initiate prison reforms.

πŸ“° The power of persuasion

•The Indian Constitution is unique in listing, among fundamental duties, the duty of each citizen “to develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform” (Article 51A). Jawaharlal Nehru was the first to use the expression “scientific temper”, which he described with his usual lucidity in The Discovery of India (while also quoting Blaise Pascal on the limits of reason). And yet, decades later, superstitious practices abound in India, including among the highly educated.

Superstition exists

•India may be unusual in the degree and variety of superstitious practices, even among the educated, but superstition exists everywhere. In his recent Editorial page article, “Science should have the last word” (The Hindu, February 17), Professor Jayant V. Narlikar, cosmologist and a life-long advocate for rationality, cites Czech astronomer JiΕ™Γ­ Grygar’s observation that though the Soviets suppressed superstitious ideas in then-Czechoslovakia during the occupation, superstition arose again in the “free-thinking”, post-Soviet days. Superstition never went away: people just hesitated to discuss it in public.

•Similarly, China suppressed superstition and occult practices during Mao Zedong’s rule. But after the economic reforms and relative openness that began in the late 1970s, superstition reportedly made a comeback, with even top party officials consulting soothsayers on their fortunes. In India, the rationalist movements of Periyar and others have barely made a dent. No country, no matter its scientific prowess, has conquered superstition.

•On the positive side, internationally, increasing numbers of people live happily without need for superstition. The most appalling beliefs and rituals have largely been eradicated the world over — such as blood-letting in medicine to human sacrifice, and in India, practices such as sati. This is due to the efforts put in by social reform campaigners, education and empowerment (of women in particular). Yet, surviving superstitions can be dangerous too, for example when they contradict medical advice.

Explaining it

•Why is it so hard to remove superstitions? Fundamentally, a belief may be difficult to shake off simply because of deep-seated habituation. In his memoir Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!, the physicist Richard P. Feynman wrote about being hypnotised voluntarily (hypnosis is always voluntary) on stage, doing what was asked, and thinking to himself that he was just agreeing to everything to not “disturb the situation”. Finally, the hypnotist announced that Feynman would not go straight back to his chair but would walk all around the room first. Feynman decided that this was ridiculous; he would walk straight back to his seat. “But then,” he said, “an annoying feeling came over me: I felt so uncomfortable that I couldn’t continue. I walked all the way around the hall.”

•We have all had such “uncomfortable feelings” when trying to do something differently, even if it seems to be logically better: whether it’s a long-standing kitchen practice, or an entrenched approach to classroom teaching, or something else in daily life. Perhaps we are all hypnotised by our previous experiences, and superstition, in particular, is a form of deep-seated hypnosis that is very hard to undo. It is undone only when the harm is clear and evident, as in the medieval practices alluded to earlier. Such beliefs are strengthened by a confirmation bias (giving importance to facts that agree with our preconceptions and ignoring others) and other logical holes. Recent research even shows how seeing the same evidence can simultaneously strengthen oppositely-held beliefs (a phenomenon called Bayesian belief polarisation).

Disagreement in science

•Dogmatism about science can be unjustified too. All scientific theories have limitations. Newton’s theories of mechanics and gravitation were superseded by Einstein’s. Einstein’s theory of gravity has no known limitations at the cosmological scale, but is incompatible with quantum mechanics. The evolution of species is an empirical fact: the fossil record attests it, and we can also observe it in action in fast-breeding species. Darwinism is a theory to explain how it occurs. Today’s version is a combination of Darwin’s original ideas, Mendelian genetics and population biology, with much empirical validation and no known failures. But it does have gaps. For example, epigenetic inheritance is not well understood and remains an active area of research. Incidentally, Dr. Narlikar in his article has suggested that Darwinism’s inability to explain the origin of life is a gap. Few evolutionary biologists would agree. Darwin’s book was after all titled The Origin of Species, and the origin of life would seem beyond its scope. But this is an example of how scientists can disagree on details while agreeing on the big picture.

•How then does one eradicate superstition? Not, as the evidence suggests, by preaching or legislating against it. Awareness campaigns against dangerous superstitions along with better education and scientific outreach may have some impact but will be a slow process.

•Today, the topic of “persuasion” is popular in the psychology, social science and marketing communities. Perhaps scientists have something to learn here too. Pascal, whom Nehru cited on reason, wrote on persuasion too. He observed that the first step is to see the matter from the other person’s point of view and acknowledge the validity of their perception, and then bring in its limitations. “People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.”

•Such a strategy may be more successful than the aggressive campaigns of rationalists such as Richard Dawkins. Nevertheless, “harmless” superstitions are likely to remain with humanity forever.

πŸ“° Stemming the tide of agrarian distress

Rather than just increased budgetary outlays, farmers need plans that will rescue them from crop failure

•Similar to the last two Budgets, this year’s pro-agriculture intentions are palpable through increased outlays to the agricultural sector and initiation of various programmes. They seem impressive, but closer scrutiny shows that the measures may be of little help to stem the tide of agrarian distress. There are some real challenges confronting three laudable Budget announcements.

Three challenges

•The first is to raise the minimum support price (MSP) by at least 50% above the cost of production. The MSP will also be extended to all crops for which estimates on cost of cultivation and a remunerative price are to be ascertained. There are two pertinent issues here. One is to estimate the cost of production of commodities not covered under the scheme and their procurement procedures, if undertaken. Two, the production cost, as calculated by the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices, is based on three different methods, termed as A2, A2+FL, and C2. A2 covers all paid-out expenses, including in cash and in kind, namely, cost on account of seeds, chemicals, hired labour, irrigation, fertilizers and fuel. A2+FL covers actual paid cost and unpaid family labour. C2 includes all actual expenses in cash and kind incurred in production and rent paid for leased land, imputed value of family labour plus interest paid. In the last few years, the government has been giving MSP above 50% based on cost A2+FL, which is to be continued as per this Budget. But farmers, for many years, have been demanding that the raise in MSP be based on C2 instead. Also, little attention has been paid towards altering the ongoing ‘high input cost and low output price’ regime. While a workable formula for fixing MSP in consonance with the States will take time, the government must extend immediate help to farmers from rampant price volatility. The States can implement the ‘price deficiency payment scheme’ (difference between MSP and price received) as has been started in Haryana for some vegetables, and the Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana in Madhya Pradesh for select oilseeds. These schemes can also encourage small holders, including tenants, who constitute at least 86% of farmers, to sell in the regulated markets.

•The second measure is to develop and upgrade the existing 22,000 rural haats into Gramin Agricultural Markets. A corpus of Rs. 2,000 crore has been allocated in the name of the Agri-Market Infrastructure Fund for developing and upgrading marketing infrastructure. Despite the promising appearance, the real challenges are to ascertain the priority of the respective States towards it and ways to accelerate its pace. The latter can be taken forward through public-private partnership, which has worked successfully in other sectors. Under market reforms, it will also be important to link production centres with marketing through agri-value chains, which would require farmers to aggregate, form self-help groups, or farmer producer organisations. The hard truth is that farmers, especially small landholders in less developed States, sell their produce mainly through village traders or government-run Primary Agricultural Credit Societies (for wheat and paddy at MSP) and often get exploited. It is a daunting task, particularly in the event of a crash in commodity prices, to have some mechanism in place to avert distress (as mentioned in the case of Haryana and Madhya Pradesh). A hike in MSP should be supplemented with irrigation, and reduction in fertilizer cost. Another interrelated initiative is the launching of ‘Operation Green’ with an outlay of Rs. 500 crore to address the challenge of price volatility of perishable commodities. This again makes it necessary for State governments to bring various programmes under one roof, perhaps within the Agricultural Produce and Livestock Market Committee 2017, to help farmers.

•The third important step is to increase institutional credit from Rs. 10 lakh crore in 2017-18 to Rs. 11 lakh crore in 2018-19. The share of agricultural credit in gross domestic product in agriculture and allied activities has increased from 10% in 1999-2000 to 41% in 2015-16. The actual flow has considerably exceeded the target. Therefore, targeting of the announced allocation to the poorer farmers and tenants in each State will go a long way in improving their purchasing power and augmenting investment, which is currently low.

What’s missing

•There are certain pressing issues not considered in this Budget that must be given closer attention. Close to 52% of net sown area (73.2 million hectares out of 141.4 million hectares) is still unirrigated and rainfed, in addition to the recurrence of floods and droughts due to climate change. Despite its presence in the Economic Survey 2017-18, the subject has not received due attention in this Budget. The plan is to take up 96 districts deprived of irrigation with an allocation of Rs. 2,600 crore under the Prime Minister Krishi Sinchayee Yojana — Har Khet ko Pani. The Centre will work with the State governments to enable farmers to install solar water pumps to irrigate fields. At the same time, the Minor Irrigation Census 2013-14, published in 2017, warns of a tremendous increase in deep tube wells to more than 2.6 million in 2013-14, from 1.45 million in 2006-07, and the resultant decline in the ground water table. It is ironic that the government aims to install more tube wells while being worried about depleting groundwater. A location-specific policy for irrigation with the identification of suitability of medium-major irrigation projects and/or minor or micro irrigation facilities is required to protect farmers from the adverse impacts of climate change. It must be supplemented with timely completion of pending canal irrigation projects, and strengthening of the National Agricultural Insurance Scheme by an increase in compensation and timely advice on weather. Technological interventions that update farmers about sowing and harvesting time and extension services can help prevent misfortunes.

•Another key component missing in the Budget is investment in agricultural research and development (Ag R&D). This is a serious concern in view of the low annual rate of growth in agriculture in the last four years. More drought and pest-resistant crops are needed, along with better irrigation technology. Farmers also require interventions in the seed sector to raise production and diversify to alternate crops to induce higher growth. The most disquieting aspect is that India spends almost Rs. 6,500 crore on Ag R&D, which is not even 0.4 % of GDP from agriculture and allied activities. Dividends from Ag R&D are much higher in the less developed eastern and rainfed States and hence receive adequate funds.

•Rather than enticing farmers with compensation and increased budgetary outlays, the government should assure doable action plans that quickly rescue them from price or crop failure. The long-term measures to increase their income and trigger agricultural growth, as reflected in the Budget, remain to accelerate investments in irrigation, infrastructure, improved extension services and institutions fully backed by a competitive marketing system.

πŸ“° ‘Hard to steal, destroy or tamper with Aadhaar’

1.5 lakh bank accounts linked, 1.62 crore bogus ration cards unearthed, says UIDAI chief

•Aadhaar cannot be tampered with or destroyed since it is nearly impossible to duplicate or match the biometrics of the 10 fingers and the iris (eye) scan of the person concerned, said Unique Identification Development Authority of India (UIDAI) Chief Executive Ajay Bhushan Pandey on Monday.

•“The country is undergoing a great transformation with Aadhaar as 1.2 billion people have an identity acceptable nationwide and across various platforms that can be established anywhere, any time. It is very difficult to steal, tamper or destroy it,” he asserted at the 21st National Conference on e-Governance. Nineteen awards in eight categories are to be given away at the end of the two-day meet.

•UIDAI programme is unprecedented in the scale of operations anywhere in the world with two crore authentications being used everyday. Direct benefit transfers, zero leakages, hassle-fre opening of bank accounts, foolproof delivery of ration goods, proper attendance in the social welfare hostels, arresting impersonation in examinations, etc. have become possible due to Aadhaar, he maintained.

•Mr. Pandey, also chairman of the GST network, said that 1.5 crore bank accounts have been linked, 1.62 crore bogus ration cards have been unearthed, two crore LPG gas connections checked with overall savings for the Government being ₹50,000 crore. “In just seven years, Aadhaar has helped people with no identity to have digital identity, thereby helping in good governance and empowering people,” he said.

•Mr. Pandey said Bollywood should look for newer themes because with Aadhaar identity, brothers being separated and uniting decades later or a person impersonating another in an educational institution and ‘benami’ transactions cannot happen any more now.

•IT Secretary Ajay Prakash Sawhney said the government is working on the data privacy framework to address privacy concerns and can also deliver all kinds of government services. Though IT as a tool of governance has come a long way, much more needs to be done to integrate different platforms because several departments are currently “working in silos”, he said.

•Humongous data obtained from GST platform and high UPI financial transactions of upto 50 lakh a day will help build a base to provide better financial services. The Centre, States and local bodies should come together to innovate on e-governance, and that the road map for Digital India 2.0 is getting ready too, he said.

•State Minister for IT and Municipal Administration K.T. Rama Rao said a mobile app folio offering 180 services would be launched soon and in six months, households would be given drinking water connection and 15 Mpbs net connectivity through Mission Bhagiratha and TS Fibre Net combine.

•Mr. Rao said the TS Wallet has seen 1.3 million downloads, 4,500 Meeseva centres have crossed 10 crore transactions with 1.5 lakh a day and Meeseva 2.0 was round the corner. Building permissions are made online, and processing of permissions whether for industries or buildings is being expedited.

•Union Minister of State for Consumer Affairs, Food and PDS C.R. Chaudhary, Chief Secretary S.K. Joshi, Administration Affairs secretary K.V. Eapen and Additional Secretary Vasudha Mishra also spoke.

πŸ“° NHPS a gimmick, says Chidambaram

‘Scheme introduced without planning’

•Former Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram has dubbed the National Health Protection Scheme (NHPS) a jumla(gimmick), alleging that it was introduced without any proper planning.

•“The NHPS is a jumla. Such a scheme cannot be introduced without proper planning. It’s an attempt to fool the people,” he said at an event here on Monday.

•The NHPS aims to provide health insurance coverage to 10 crore families with an insurance ceiling of up to Rs. 5 lakh per family.

What about funds?

•Criticising the Centre for the scheme, he wondered how it will provide funds for it. “When we asked Arun Jaitley how will the government arrange funding for NHPS, he said ‘we will find money for it’. I can’t understand how the Centre will find money for the scheme without raising taxes,” Mr. Chidambaram said.

•He also scoffed at the Centre’s move to ask the States to bear 40% of the expenditure on NHPS and asked why the State governments should bear it when they have healthcare programmes of their own.

‘Badly failed’

•The former Finance Minister accused the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance government at the Centre of “badly failing” in terms of achieving fiscal consolidation. He argued that the NDA government has been unable to reduce the fiscal deficit “significantly” since coming to power in 2014.

πŸ“° ICAI favours existing audit mechanism

Post PNB scam, CA regulator says it supports efforts to bolster current system via amendments to Act

•The Institute of Charted Accountants of India (ICAI) has said that it supports efforts to strengthen its existing disciplinary and oversight mechanism through amendments to the CA Act.

•This comes in the backdrop of allegations about the role of Chartered Accountants (CAs) in the Punjab National Bank (PNB) scam and Finance Minister Arun Jaitley pointing fingers at auditors and regulators for failing to detect such frauds.

•However, ICAI has indirectly opposed the setting up of a super regulator National Financial Reporting Authority (NFRA) to regulate the CA profession. “ICAI supports every effort of strengthening the existing mechanism. But the model of oversight mechanism on the pattern of overseas regulations like Sarbanes Oxley Act 2002 (or SOX) has been found to be ineffective in so far in back-drop of banking sector mortgage scams in the US (in) 2008-2009,” the CA regulator said in a statement.

•The SOX is a U.S. federal legislation that had brought in new or expanded norms for American public accounting firms, public company boards as well as management. The ICAI also said a Parliamentary Standing Committee had recommended that, “Consistent with its position on strengthening the oversight of corporate audit, the committee desires that the existing mechanism in this regard under the CA Act should be streamlined and strengthened without needlessly adding to regulatory levels. This may be undertaken in consultations with the ICAI, which is the designated elected self regulatory body for professional audit in the country.”

‘Imprudent to judge’

•The CA regulator said till the time disciplinary inquiry was concluded in the PNB matter and the role of all those who acted in fiduciary responsibility was established, it would not be prudent to draw any conclusion against the profession. The ICAI remained committed to ensure accelerated inquiry and conclusion of the disciplinary proceedings in the PNB matter, it said. An ICAI High Powered Group to look into the alleged PNB bank scam had held its first meeting on February 23 in Mumbai, the CA body said, adding that the GM (Western Zone), PNB, appeared and made his statement.

•On strengthening its disciplinary and oversight mechanism, the ICAI said it had already submitted its comments for the recommendation of the Central Government-appointed High Level Committee (HLC), which had also already drafted amendments to the CA Act.

•Even before formation of the HLC, ICAI constituted an internal group to review the disciplinary mechanism and submitted its suggestions to the Centre for suitable amendments in the CA Act.

πŸ“° A royal salute to India’s religious plurality

King Abdullah II of Jordan will highlight how India has succeeded in fighting off the influence of IS and Al-Qaeda

•India’s religious plurality and success in fighting off the influence of Islamist terror groups such as Al-Qaeda and the ISIS will be highlighted as Jordanian King Abdullah II delivers a special address at Vigyan Bhavan here on Thursday. Mr. Abdullah will land in Delhi on Tuesday for a three-day visit, the External Affairs Ministry said.

•Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who met Mr. Abdullah in Amman earlier this month, will attend the function organised by the India Islamic Cultural Centre on March 1, where the Jordanian King will speak on “Islamic heritage: promoting understanding and moderation”, to an audience including academics, Islamic scholars and representatives of all denominations of the Muslim community.

•“[The King] has personally chosen to give this address in Delhi, as Jordan has studied how India has been able to avoid the threats from ISIS and other groups,” an official involved in the planning of the visit said here on Monday.

•Mr. Abdullah, who is himself a 41st generation descendant of Prophet Muhammad and the Custodian of the Holy Sites in Jerusalem, has taken a leadership role in countering extremism and radicalisation in the Arab world through what is known as the “Aqaba Process” initiative, officials said.

•Though Jordan is home to about 2 million Palestinian refugees and more than 6,60,000 refugees from Syria, the kingdom has remained peaceful compared with the rest of the region and is seen as an “oasis of stability”, the official said. During the event, which officials said was the “first of its kind” for New Delhi, Mr. Abdullah will release an Urdu translation of a book, A thinking person’s guide to Islam , by his cousin Prince Ghazi Bin Mohammad. It includes a chapter on Jihad and the “Crisis of ISIS”, detailing how countries like India have escaped Jihadist influences because of the moderate or “Hanafi, non-Takfiri” form of Islam followed in the country.

•The Jordanian King will be in Delhi from February 27 to March 1 and will hold bilateral talks with Mr. Modi on March 1, before the address.

•The officials said the two sides were discussing a framework agreement on defence and security, and the Deputy National Security Adviser has held several talks with the Jordanian Director of Intelligence.

•Any agreement will be significant, given Jordan’s closer ties to Pakistan in the past, and officials stressed that the discussions had only been initiated.

•Earlier this month, King Abdullah had also paid a visit to Islamabad.

•After talks with Mr. Modi, the two sides are expected to announce a number of agreements, including one to set up a “centre of excellence” in Amman by the Pune-based Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (C-DAC), a partnership agreement between heritage cities Petra and Agra, as well as a visa agreement to facilitate businessmen.

•One pending issue not yet resolved is on the resumption of direct flights between Delhi and Amman, which were shut down when Royal Jordanian Airlines ended its service in 2014.

Business summit

•On Wednesday, King Abdullah will visit the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi to “explore collaborations with Jordanian technical institutes” and address a business summit which will include some 30 businessmen from Jordan, a statement issued by the External Affairs Ministry said on Monday.

•India is Jordan’s fourth largest trading partner, but bilateral trade, which is mainly dependent on fertilizer imports, dropped drastically from about $2.2 billion in 2014 to $1.3 billion in 2017, and both sides will discuss how to improve business ties.

•While the visit will focus on bilateral issues, the two leaders are expected to discuss the Palestinian peace process.

•“PM Modi’s recent visit [to Jordan and Palestine] gave momentum to the fact that India continues its very strong traditional support to Palestine, and this will definitely come up in the discussions [with King Abdullah],” said a source involved in the planning, but ruled out any plans for India to mediate or facilitate Israel-Palestine talks at present.

πŸ“° In a record, more than 4 lakh olive ridleys nest at Rushikulya

Mass nesting to continue for two to three days

•With 4,28,083 mother olive ridley turtles nesting till Monday morning, the endangered species has created an all-time record of mass nesting at the Rushikulya rookery coast in the Ganjam district of Odisha this year. The mass nesting is expected to continue for another two to three days, said Berhampur divisional forest officer Ashis Behera.

•Interestingly, mass nesting of olive ridley turtles has not yet started on the coasts along the Gahirmatha beach and the mouth of the Debi river, two other major nesting sites in Odisha. Forest officials say the Gahirmatha beach is the largest mass nesting site for olive ridley turtles along the Indian coastline, followed by the rookery at the mouth of the Rushikulya river.

•With 3,65,000 nests, olive ridley turtles had created a record of mass nesting at Rushikulya in 2017. They have already broken the record this year, indicating that the environment of this coast continues to be conducive for their mass nesting. In 2016, for some unexplained reason, there was no mass nesting at this coast.

More nestings

•This year, sea waves and winds have widened a portion of the beach near the Rushikulya rookery. A sandbar near the Podampeta village eroded entirely, and its sand was deposited on the coast, widening a stretch of the beach and increasing its height. This is the region where a large number of nestings took place this year.

•The turtles have also extended their area of nesting northward till the Bateswar temple, said Mr. Behera.




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