The HINDU Notes – 04th March 2018 - VISION

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Sunday, March 04, 2018

The HINDU Notes – 04th March 2018

πŸ“° What are the consequences of India’s falling sex ratio?

What is it?

•A recent report from the NITI Aayog said sex ratio at birth (SRB) nationwide had dropped from 906 in 2012-2014 to 900 in 2013-2015. The SRB is the number of girls born for every 1,000 boys. In all, 17 of 21 large Indian States saw a drop in the SRB, with Gujarat performing the worst, declining 53 points. While the NITI Aayog report used data up to 2013-15, newer data from India’s Sample Registration System show the SRB fell even further in 2014-2016, from 900 to 898. While this is a highly disturbing trend, it isn’t new for India, which has seen a consistent lowering of the SRB since the 1970s. In natural circumstances, the SRB hovers around 952 girls for every 1,000 boys.

•The number of girls born is naturally lower than the number of boys, and demographers speculate that this may be nature’s way of offsetting the higher risk that men have of dying — male babies are biologically weaker than females, and men have historically seen higher mortality rates owing to risk-taking behaviour and participation in wars. This evens out the sex ratio of a population as it grows older. But India is a special case. Its SRB is far lower than 952 because of the preference for the male child.

•This means we are killing girl children in the womb. As on today, around 63 million girls are estimated to be ‘missing’ in India because of such actions.

How did it come about?

•Till the 1970s, female infanticide was the preferred way of killing the girl child, notes a review in the journal Genetics in Medicine. But in the Seventies, sex selection technologies like amniocentesis came about, in which doctors can test the amniotic fluid around a developing foetus for genetic abnormalities. But people soon realised this method could be used to determine the child’s sex and to abort it, if female. Other technologies, including the cheaper and less invasive ultrasound, followed, allowing more people to use them. As a 2010 report from the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) puts it, these technologies gave son preference “a tiny, sleek technological nudge”. Families who were killing baby girls till then made the shift to abortions. A thriving market for sex selection sprung up with doctors openly advertising their services. In 1994, the government took notice and introduced the Prenatal Diagnostics Techniques Act which punishes healthcare professionals for telling expectant parents 
he sex of a child with imprisonment and hefty fines. In 2003, when technologies that allowed gender-selection even before conception became available, the act was amended to become the Prenatal Conception and Prenatal Determination Act (PC-PNDT). By any token, this Act has been a failure. In November 2016, a report from the Asian Centre for Human Rights noted that between 1994 and 2014, 2,266 cases of infanticide were registered in India, against 2,021 cases of abortion under the PC-PNDT, even though abortions outnumber infanticides today. In all, 17 out of 29 States had either not registered any case, or had zero convictions. The PHFI report in 2010 found major gaps in the training of personnel implementing PC-PNDT. Poor training meant that they were unable to prepare strong cases against violators to secure convictions.
Why does it matter?

•Low SRBs starting from the Seventies have led to large numbers of “surplus men” today in countries like India and China. There are concerns that skewed sex ratios lead to more violence against both men and women, as well as human-trafficking. In India, some villages in Haryana and Punjab have such poor sex ratios that men “import” brides from other States. This is often accompanied by the exploitation of these brides.

What next?

•India must implement the PC-PNDT more stringently, but must also dedicate more resources to fighting the preference for boys. Last week, the Drugs Technical Advisory Board decided that ultrasound machines should be included in the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, so that their import is regulated.

πŸ“° Govt. puts delayed road projects on Indo-China border on track

The Cabinet Committee on Security approved the revised cost estimates for the ongoing construction project to ₹3,482.52 crore

•Two months after the Doklam stand-off, when the Indian Army prevented the Chinese from building a road that would have given China access to the North East, the Centre cleared an additional ₹3,400 crore for making 73 strategic roads along the Chinese border a reality. The strategic roads project had been sanctioned in 2005 and the roads should have been constructed by 2012.

2020 deadline

•On November 10, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi approved the revised cost estimates for the ongoing road construction project to ₹3,482.52 crore. The project known as ICBR-I (Indo-China Border Roads), has missed several deadlines. Now the CCS has set 2020 as another deadline to complete the project. As per Home Ministry’s records, only “13 roads have been completed in all respects and are in operational use.” Agencies have blamed inclement weather, rough terrain and shortage of manpower as reasons for the delay.

•For more than 70 days, India blocked the Chinese PLA at Doklam, at the Bhutan-Sikkim-China trijunction, from proceeding with constructing the road which could have given the latter an advantage over the Siliguri corridor, which connects east with North East India.

•Unlike other decisions taken by the Cabinet that are made public, those taken by the CCS remain unannounced. “To redress the situation arising out of lack of infrastructure along the India-China border, the Government has decided to undertake construction of 73 roads of operational significance along the border. Out of these 73 roads, 27 roads involving 804.32 km are being constructed by Ministry of Home Affairs in Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh at an estimated cost of ₹1,937 crore,” a government note said.

•Last year, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) had criticised the BRO heavily for “defective construction which resulted in delay in completion of strategic roads.”

Beyond schedule

•The CAG noted that as much as 98% of the funds allocated for construction for 61 strategic roads had been spent on only 22 roads. The rest were woefully behind schedule. “Out of 61 strategic roads that were to be constructed by 2012, only 22 roads had been completed till March 2016, despite incurring an expenditure of ₹4,536 crore (98%) against the estimated cost of ₹4,644 crore,” the CAG said in its report. The CAG pointed out that the “non-completion and faulty specifications” of works have a serious bearing on the operational capability of the armed forces in strategically sensitive areas.

•“Road works executed by the BRO did not adequately meet the users’ requirement. Even six roads which had been completed at a cost of ₹164 crore, were not fit for running of specialised vehicles and equipments due to limitations in execution of works. Deployment of GREF personnel was done in remote and hazardous working locations without adequate facilities,” the CAG report said.

•The 2006-07 annual report of the Ministry said, “To redress the situation arising out of poor road connectivity, which has hampered the operational capability of the border guarding forces deployed along the India-China border, the Government has decided to undertake phase-wise construction of 27 road links totaling 608 km in the border areas at an estimated cost of ₹912 crore.”

•The official said that out of these 27, five roads with 243.38 km length are under construction in Arunachal Pradesh.

•A senior Home Ministry official said now the construction of 15 roads has been assigned to Border Roads Organisation (BRO), eight to the Central Public Works Department (CPWD), two to NPCC and two to the Himachal Pradesh Public Works Department.

•“CCS has approved on 10.11.2017 the revised cost estimates amounting to ₹3,482.52 crore to complete the ICBR-I project by December 2020,” the note said.

πŸ“° India, Vietnam lay stress on defence ties

Commit to free South China Sea, open sea lanes

•India and Vietnam committed to enhancing joint co-production in defence, including transfer of technology from India in their ongoing defence cooperation, visiting President Tran Dai Quang and Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Saturday after delegation level meetings. The two sides also built on previous statements on maritime security in the “Indo-Pacific” region, calling for free and open sea lanes.

•“Our militaries continue to build deep cooperation between all the services,” Mr. Modi said after the meeting, “We will jointly work for an open, independent & prosperous Indo-Pacific area where the international rules-based order is respected.” The Vietnam President said the two countries would together address “regional security challenges especially in spheres of maritime security and cyber-security.”

Three agreements

•Officials of the two countries exchanged three agreements on enhancing trade and agricultural research and an MoU on Cooperation between the Global Centre for Nuclear Energy Partnership (GCNEP) and the Vietnam Atomic Energy Institute (VINATOM). The two countries had signed a civil nuclear cooperation agreement in 2016 and the MoU will enhance training and research collaboration possibilities.

•Both Mr. Modi and Mr. Quang spoke of the importance of joint exploration of oil and gas reserves off the coast of Vietnam in the South China Sea (SCS) by ONGC Videsh Limited (OVL) and PetroVietnam (PVN).

•In January this year, the Chinese Foreign Ministry reacted to the Vietnamese Ambassador’s invitation to India for more joint exploration projects in areas it claims, by saying that they must not be used as an “excuse to infringe upon China's legitimate rights and interests in the South China Sea and impair regional peace and stability”.

•Going a step further on Saturday, Mr. Modi said that not only would India and Vietnam strengthen their bilateral relations in oil and gas, “but will also work along with other nations on trilateral possibilities.”

Credit line

•The two sides did not sign any agreements in the field of defence cooperation, but are expected to continue to work on fulfilling India’s $100 million Credit Line commitment to Vietnam, some of which has been used for procuring Offshore Patrol Vehicles (OPVs), while talks continue on Akash Surface to Air Missile systems (SR-SAMS) and Dhruv advanced light helicopters.

•Mr. Quan will give a special address at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) on Sunday. He also met with a delegation of Congress party leaders, including former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and Anand Sharma.

πŸ“° U.S. delays decision on H-4 visas

•The Trump administration has delayed its decision on termination of work authorisation for spouses of the H-1B visa holders, in a big relief to a significantly large number of Indian workers and their families.

•The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in a court submission this week said that it would not take a decision on terminating the work authorisation of H-4 visa users, spouses of H-1B visa holders, till June as it needs time to review the economic impact of such a decision.

•Since 2015, the spouses of H-1B visa holders waiting for green cards have been eligible to work in the U.S. on H-4 dependent visas, under a rule introduced by the previous Barack Obama administration. The DHS was previously scheduled to take a call on it by February 28.

•“Consistent with the Government’s prior representations, DHS was working to issue an NPRM (Notice of Proposed Rule Making) in February 2018.

•“However, in January 2018, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the component of DHS responsible for oversight of the H-4 visa programme at issue in this litigation, reevaluated the rule and determined that significant revisions to the draft proposal were necessary,” DHS said in its fresh court submission.

Economic analysis

•It said the revisions required a new economic analysis which required an additional several weeks to perform.

•The extension of decision-making process by four months comes as a temporary relief to the spouses of H-1B visas holders, a significantly large number of whom are Indian workers.

πŸ“° Do Putin’s nuclear weapons pose a threat to U.S.?

Russian President unveiled five powerful weapons — cruise missile, ICBM, hypersonic missile, nuclear torpedo and hypersonic glide vehicle

•The animated videos show Russian warheads speeding toward Florida and missiles outmanoeuvring obstacles in the southern Atlantic. Russia has a new class of weapons, President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday, that could make U.S. defences obsolete.

•Mr. Putin could be bluffing. It’s unclear how many of the five weapons he described actually exist. But a close look at the videos he presented indicates some telling details about their state of readiness and how they work.

Nuclear cruise missile

•Most cruise missiles are like small airplanes. Their engines suck in air and burn hydrocarbon fuels. A nuclear cruise missile, in theory, would use a small reactor to heat air and fire it out the rear end to create forward thrust.

•Russian scientists have developed “a small-scale heavy-duty nuclear energy unit,” Mr. Putin said, that can power a cruise missile so that it could achieve “basically an unlimited range”.

•Such a technology could evade U.S. defences and alter the balance of power. But analysts were sceptical. “If we’re talking about nuclear-armed cruise missiles, that’s a technological breakthrough and a gigantic achievement,” said Alexander M. Golts, an independent Russian military analyst. But, he added, “The question is, is this true?”

•Mr. Putin said the nuclear cruise missile had been tested successfully late last year. But U.S. officials said they believed it is not yet operational, despite his claims, and that it had crashed during testing in the Arctic.

•The Sarmat Intercontinental Ballistic Missile could loft many nuclear warheads or decoys meant to outwit anti-missile systems. In a video animation, the missile is able to zoom round either Earth pole, reaching anywhere in the world.

•The Sarmat is a replacement for the Voevoda, or SS-18, the biggest and most deadly Soviet-era missile of the Cold War. According to Mr. Putin, its weight exceeds 200 tonnes and has practically no range restrictions. Images of the missile were first revealed in 2016, as reported by Russian news sources. The Sarmat has not been deployed, but “the Defence Ministry and enterprises of the missile and aerospace industry are in the active phase of testing,” Mr. Putin told his audience.

•The video opens with footage from what appears to be a test site. The missile was successfully ejected from an underground silo in a December test, according to Russian news reports. The video closes with an image of nine warheads zeroing in on Florida, where President Donald Trump often stays at his Mar-a-Lago resort.

Can evade interceptors

•By definition, hypersonic vehicles travel at speeds of 1 to 5 miles per second — or up to dozens of times faster than modern airliners. Such blinding speeds would enable a hypersonic cruise missile to evade interceptor rockets, which fly at relatively slow speeds. Mr. Putin said such superfast missiles have been tested successfully and begun trial service.

•This Status-6 Nuclear Torpedo, launched from a submarine, could carry conventional or nuclear warheads. Most modern torpedoes have relatively short ranges. A torpedo powered by a small nuclear mechanism, in theory, could possess unlimited range, spanning oceans or circling until a target appeared.

•The Trump Nuclear Posture Review, released in early February, makes the first known federal reference to this Russian weapon, calling it “a new intercontinental, nuclear-armed, nuclear-powered, undersea autonomous torpedo”. After years of development, this technology was successfully tested in December, according to Putin, who called it “really fantastic.” The U.S. appears to have nothing similar.

•The Avengard Hypersonic Glide Vehicle, another weapon Mr. Putin showcased, can fly into space on a regular rocket and then navigate autonomously in the atmosphere. That way, it can evade anti-missile defences, as well as shorten or eliminate enemy warning time.

πŸ“° No other Act is treated with as much contempt, says Prasar Bharati Chairman A. Surya Prakash

Chairman of Prasar Bharati says I&B Ministry officials behave as if the Prasar Bharati Act does not exist at

•The rift between the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) and public broadcaster Prasar Bharati is growing by the day. In this exclusive interview with The Hindu, former journalist and Prasar Bharati Chairman A. Surya Prakash talks about the present crisis. Excerpts:

Of late, there is growing tension between the Ministry of Information & Broadcasting and Prasar Bharati. How do you respond to the crisis that’s making headlines almost daily.

•This in itself should not be a cause for worry because in a vibrant democracy, a certain degree of tension between a department of the government and an autonomous institution is par for the course. In fact, it should be a matter of concern if everything is hunky dory! In the course of the engagement, there are agreements and disagreements. One need not be unduly worried about it so long as the relationship is marked by civility and mutual respect and all stakeholders are aware that they are bound by the mandate of Parliament as outlined in the Prasar Bharati Act.

It is said that in a recent meeting of the Prasar Bharati Board, you accused the I&B Ministry and its bureaucracy of not adhering to the Act. Is that true?

•Yes. In my view, the bureaucrats in the Ministry have passed several orders which indicate that they have utter contempt for the Prasar Bharati Act. In fact, they behave as if the Act does not exist at all. For example, a few months ago, the Ministry issued an order stating that the Annual Performance Appraisal Report (APAR) of the CEO of Prasar Bharati would be written by the Secretary, I&B. This is absolutely and patently illegal. As per Section 6 (7) of the Act, the CEO is an employee of the corporation and not of the Ministry. The Act clearly mandates that the CEO is not to function under the control and supervision of the Ministry or its bureaucrats.

•Another directive that flies against the letter and spirit of the Act is the one issued on February 5, 2018 directing Prasar Bharati to terminate all contractual employees. Members of the Board have taken strong exception to this, too. What kind of an autonomous media corporation is Prasar Bharati if it cannot hire contractual and casual manpower who are paid out of its own funds? In fact, I regard such orders as gross contempt of the Act and of Parliament itself. I have never found another Act of Parliament being treated with such contempt by bureaucrats as the Prasar Bharati Act!

There was a lot of speculation and uncertainty regarding your reappointment for a second term. What happened and has your reappointment got anything to do with the present crisis?

•I am not privy to what transpired behind the scenes regarding my reappointment. As per the Prasar Bharati Act, a committee headed by the Hon’ble Vice President has the mandate to select the Chairman.

How would you describe your relationship with this government?

•I am seen as a friend of this government for two reasons: (1) ideological affinity and (2) shared political experiences with seniors in this government and the party [the BJP]. I have always felt that pseudo-secularism is at the root of many of our problems and I see this government as having the vision to move away from it.

What are the shared political experiences?

•Most of the top leaders of this party and government fought against the dreaded Emergency imposed by Indira Gandhi in 1975-77. Leaders like Atal Behari Vajpayee, L.K.Advani, Nanaji Deshmukh, Arun Jaitley, Prakash Javadekar, Anant Kumar, Ravishankar Prasad, Ram Vilas Paswan were thrown in jail. Many RSS leaders from Balasaheb Deoras to Dattatreya Hosabale were also jailed. Leaders like Narendra Modi evaded arrest and played a key role in the underground movement, helping families of jailed leaders to cope with in their difficult situation. I was with The Indian Express in those days. We were all soldiers in what was called the ‘second freedom struggle’.

Where does Prasar Bharati come into the picture in this?

•The dictatorial Emergency regime indulged in gross misuse of AIR (All India Radio) and DD (Doordarshan). Many media stalwarts like B.G.Verghese, Nikhil Chakraborty and M.V.Kamath therefore wanted an autonomous corporation. Eventually, Prasar Bharati was born in November 1997. It is the will of Parliament that Prasar Bharati be a “genuinely autonomous corporation”.

Do you think this government stands committed to the letter and spirit of the Prasar Bharati Act?

•Of course, I have no doubt about it. I gave the historical background so that we understand the approach of key decision-makers to this issue. If you look at the circumstances in which I was re-appointed, I do not think the Hon’ble Vice-President, the Prime Minister and others would have wanted me back if they did not respect the autonomous nature of this corporation.

πŸ“° What the ruler and the ruled owe one another

We owe it to ourselves and to each other that there be something like Dhamma, a constitutional morality that guides us all

•The Arthashastra is not the only source of political thinking in India. Another tradition exists from which we can learn much, which is as relevant in our own, very different context of popular rule (democracy) as it was in ancient times.

•I am thinking here of a tradition in which the idea of the Chakravartin, the wheel turner, is of great significance. The wheel that these great rulers turn is the wheel of Dharma or Dhamma (law inspired by morality) — just as the Buddha turned the wheel of Dhamma in the religio-philosophical sphere, just so the Chakravartin turns it in the political sphere. The turning of the wheel is a metaphor for a radical restructuring of the world in accordance with a politico-moral vision. The king launches an entirely new set of political and administrative measures inspired by public morality and becomes a normative ruler — the just ruler who brings peace and prosperity to his subjects. If he conquers other kingdoms, he does so not by physical force but by moral appeal. People submit to his rule not from coercion but voluntarily, out of respect for his adherence to the principles of Dhamma.

The Asoka template

•The king who first embodies the idea of a moral ruler or the ‘normative king’ is none other than Asoka. Before him, or before he turned his back on the tradition of physical conquest and violence to become the Chakravartin, the rightness or wrongness of actions was determined solely by the king himself. The law was not applied consistently or uniformly but in an extremely partial and arbitrary manner. Thus, Rajas often rewarded or punished their subjects to serve their own idiosyncratic moral sense or personal interests. But now, by fashioning the idea of Dhamma, Asoka detached his personal views from what is morally right. By submitting to what is morally right, he sought to save himself from acts that he might come to regret later, to tame the institution of kingship itself, to limit his own absolute power.

•If Dhamma is a higher moral principle above not just the ruled but the ruler too, then we have within our midst not just what the ruled owe their rulers, but, in turn, what the ruler owes the ruled. The politico-moral order stands above the king, at least partially. The head of the family is as much part of it as his wife and children are. Likewise, the king is part of the political order just as much as his subjects are. And just as all members of the family owe something, though not the same thing, to each other, just so the king owes something to his subjects though qualitatively different from what the subjects owe him.

•What the subjects owe to the king and his officials is obedience to his commands. But these commands are not his personal whim but flow from Dhamma itself. Furthermore, the Asokan Pillar Edict 7 clarifies that compliance to Dhamma must arise largely from nijjhattiya (persuasion), not solely from niyama (legislation). And we can be persuaded only when something makes sense to us; when what is commanded accords with what one understands Dhamma to require. Everyone must follow Dhamma out of an inner disposition to comply, with one’s conscience, as it were. In short, rule by Dhamma may also be viewed as an attempt to transform brute power into moral authority — commands are followed because they are seen to be good, not merely because the ruler so commands.

•This does not exhaust the political dimension of Dhamma, however. For it must also include what the king owes his subjects. Pillar Edict 6 elaborates what this is: lokassa hitasukhaye (welfare and happiness of all living beings in this world), and hereafter in swarga (heaven). According to Pillar Edict 4, the king's officials owe something to the subjects too — samata (impartiality), viyohala or vyavahar samata (impartiality in the social domain) and damda samata(impartiality in the domain of retributive punishment).

•In the reign of Dhamma, the king is not just a ruler but a leader, one who leads his subjects by example. Apart from being a father to all (important in that context), Asoka tried to be one who saw further and clearer than others, sometimes a teacher, sometimes a healer; always, a moral exemplar.

Lessons for today

•What is the takeaway from this ancient conception of Dhamma-inspired Chakravartin? Not the idea of kingship (or the rule of one man), of no value in a democratic republic. Nor the idea of the ruler as our father, our ‘maibaap’. In a democracy, we rule collectively; at least as equal citizens, we rule and are ruled in turn. But even our own rule can become arbitrary, where power is exercised by popular whim rather than by predictable, stable norms emanating from collective reflection. So, the takeaway is that we owe it to ourselves and to each other that there be (a) impartial rule of law which checks abuse of popular power, saving us, the people, from acts that we might come to regret later and that binds even those we have temporarily chosen to govern us; (b) something like Dhamma, a constitutional morality — justice, tolerance, freedom, equality and civic friendship — that guides us all, the ruler and the ruled. And our elected representatives owe it to us that they be not merely rulers but moral exemplars, faithful adherents themselves of the rule of law and constitutional morality. The Chakravartin tradition remains a valuable resource for our democratic republic.

πŸ“° Dumping U.S. debt, a possible weapon in global trade war

Should China, Japan suddenly pare Treasuries holdings, markets could be jolted

•U.S. President Donald Trump’s plan to slap stiff tariffs on imported steel and aluminum has rattled financial markets and stirred fears that some trading partners might retaliate by dumping U.S. Treasuries.

•Should China, Japan and other nations, which have recycled their trade dollars through their Treasuries holdings, suddenly decide to whittle them down, markets could be in for a rough ride.

•Such a retaliatory move, in the wake of Mr. Trump’s first big protectionist action, comes at a time when foreign demand for U.S. debt is seen critical to offset an expected surge in federal borrowing needs, analysts and investors said on Friday.

•“The threats are real,” said Kristina Hooper, chief global market strategist at Invesco in New York. “We need more foreign demand, not less.”

•To be sure, it is unlikely that Beijing, Tokyo and other overseas central banks would dump Treasuries altogether, if at all, analysts and investors said. Countries could wind up torching their own U.S. bond investments, without winning any guaranteed gains from Washington, they said.

•“They already own a lot of them. They would be shooting themselves in the foot,” said Jack McIntyre, portfolio manager at Brandywine Global Investment Management in Philadelphia.

•Still what U.S. trading partners might do with their collective ownership of more than a quarter of all Treasury securities outstanding looms as a hefty risk not only for the bond market.

•Treasury yields are benchmarks for total returns on stocks and other assets. Typically when yields go up, stock prices fall. The yields are also used by banks and other lenders to determine what they charge consumers on mortgages and other loans. U.S. mortgage rates hit four-year highs last month.

‘High-pressure’ response

•Mr. Trump’s announcement of 25% and 10% levies on foreign steel and aluminium touched off outcries of unfair protectionism from trading partners, while it drew cheers from domestic producers as a move to combat questionable export practices by other countries.

•“It’s a high-pressure response,” said Jason Celente, senior portfolio manager at Insight Investment.

•Details of Mr. Trump’s tariff plan are still unknown, and Mr, Celente said the tariffs might not be imposed at all after criticism from Republican lawmakers and U.S. industries heavily dependent on steel and aluminium.

•Still, Mr. Trump said “trade wars are good” on Twitter on Friday, and the rhetoric has heated up. Canada and the European Union said they are ready to take countermeasures, while China urged Mr. Trump to show restraint.

•“The timing of this would be poor since the Treasury needs to tap the capital markets more than ever, in greater size, to pay for the plentiful tax cuts passed a few months ago,” Kevin Giddis, head of fixed income capital markets with Raymond James.

•The massive tax overhaul enacted last December was projected to add up to $1.5 trillion to the U.S. debt load over a decade, while a two-year spending deal reached last month would add $300 billion to the deficit.

•At the end of 2017, foreign governments owned $4.03 trillion or almost 29% of the $14.47 trillion in Treasury securities outstanding.

•China and Japan, two major U.S. trading partners, are also the top two foreign holders of Treasuries with a combined holdings of $2.25 trillion in December, Treasury data showed.

•In 2017, the United States rang up a $375 billion trade deficit with China and a $69 billion trade gap with Japan, according to the U.S. Census.

Bond yields seesaw

•Fears of a trade war have spooked Wall Street and caused the dollar to drop.

•The debt market had a seesaw response on Thursday and Friday with investors firstly buying U.S. Treasuries as a safe haven and sending the benchmark 10-year note’s yield to a three-week low.

•They reversed those bond positions on Friday, mostly due to worries that the Bank of Japan might exit its ultra-loose monetary policy. Investors also sold to make room for next week’s heavy corporate debt supply.

•However, growing anxiety among traders about foreign retaliation through selling or buying fewer Treasuries may be coming into play, some investors and analysts said.

•“You can’t rule it out. It’s unsettling the market a bit,” Mr. McIntyre said.

πŸ“° Extreme TB: No licence to heal

Compulsory licence for 2 drugs may be needed, but Centre isn’t ready yet

•Advanced patented medicines used to treat Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (DR-TB) are available to only about 1,000 patients out of the tens of thousands who need it, because the innovator-manufacturers are not ready to licence Indian drug-makers who can sell them at affordable prices.

•Bedaquiline and Delaminid, the new-generation drugs, are recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) for DR-TB patients.

•It is five years since Bedaquiline became available, but India has fewer than 1,000 patients on it. Only 81 patients have access to Delaminid, according to the Union Health Ministry.

•“These numbers are terrifying. India does not seem to be mounting emergency measures to deal with the airborne disease,” said Prof. Jennifer Furin of Harvard Medical School, US, who has closely followed TB drug access in India.

Only donations

•Nearly 1.3 lakh DR-TB patients need treatment but the Health Ministry has only 10,000 doses of Bedaquiline and 400 doses of Delaminid, obtained as ‘donations’ from Janssen (US) and Otsuka Pharmaceuticals (Japan), the respective manufacturers.

•On September 19, 2017, a panel chaired by Dr. Soumya Swaminathan, then Director-General of the Indian Council of Medical Research and currently the Deputy Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended, among other steps, that the Health Ministry consider issuing a compulsory licence (CL) for the two TB drugs.

•Dr. Swaminathan said recently that India should consider the CL option for the two drugs, if the country runs out of options.

•“We need better access to new TB drugs. We need to think of some feasible strategies,” she said.

πŸ“° Dual mechanism for embryonic stem cells to maintain pluripotency

The study will give a handle to convert iPS cells into specialised cells

•Embryonic stem cells are capable of generating all the cell types that compose the organs and systems of the human body. Now, researchers at Pune’s National Centre for Cell Science (NCCS) have found a dual mechanism that keeps specific genes off, which helps the embryonic stem cells maintain pluripotency — their ability to give rise to all the cell types. The dual mechanism functions in such a way that even if one mechanism fails, the other can function as a back-up and help the embryonic stem cells maintain pluripotency.

Role of endocytsis

•Embryonic stem cells contain multiple endocytosis-associated genes whose expression is suppressed unlike in the case of the specialised or differentiated cells. Some of the genes are directly responsible for or involved in the regulation of the transport of molecules present on the cell surface membrane to the interior of the cell. The precise mechanism by which the expression of endocytosis-associated genes are turned off in embryonic stem cells and the role of endocytosis (transport of molecules from the membrane surface to inside the cell) in maintaining pluripotency was not known. A team led by Dr Deepa Subramanyam from NCCS has deciphered them. The results were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

•“We attempted to identify and ascertain if certain genes that are associated with endocytosis have their expression kept under check or not in stem cells, and if these genes had any role in maintaining the stemness of embryonic stem cells,” says Dr Subramanyam.

Two pathways

•The team identified two pathways — polycomb repressive complex (PRC2) and embryonic stem cell-specific cell cycle (ESCC) regulating microRNAs — that suppressed the expression of the endocytosis-associated genes in embryonic stem cells but not in cells that have already differentiated. While the expression of 50 endocytosis-associated genes is kept under check by one pathway (PRC2), the expression of a smaller subset of 12 genes is also reduced by the action of the second pathway (ESCC).

•The PRC2 complex has four subunits, and when one particular subunit (Ezh2) was knocked down it led to significant increase in the expression of endocytosis-associated genes. Similar results were obtained when another subunit (Suz12) was knocked down.


•Stem cells have a class of small non-coding microRNAs called the ESCC-family of microRNAs. The microRNAs work by binding to the complementary sites seen on messenger RNA (mRNA). “Of the 50 endocytosis-associated genes, 21 genes had complementary sites for the microRNA, indicating that these 21 could potentially be controlled by microRNAs,” she says.

•“The function of the PRC2 complex is to suppress the expression of the 50 endocytosis-associated genes. And the microRNAs function as a back-up, in case the expression of some of the genes is not completely shut down by the action of the PRC2 complex,” says Dr Subramanyam. The stem cells will continue to exhibit pluripotency as long as the expression of the endocytosis-associated genes is turned off.

•To confirm that the genes have to necessarily be turned off for pluripotency to be maintained in stem cells, the researchers introduced the genes into stem cells in such a manner that the expression of these genes was not turned in the stem cells. “We introduced only one gene at a time and we tested a total of two genes. In both cases, the embryonic stem cells began losing their pluripotency and there was an upregulation of differentiation markers,” says Ridim Dadasaheb Mote from NCCS and first author of the paper.

•“Our work will be helpful in regenerative medicine. Understanding the pathways and mechanism of endocytosis can now give us a handle to try and convert induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells, which are pluripotent, into specialised cells, such as neurons, by altering the expression of the endocytosis-associated genes,” says Dr Subramanyam.

πŸ“° JNCASR’s novel material to convert waste heat into electricity

With nearly 65% of utilized energy wasted, the focus is on materials to mitigate this

•A novel compound that exhibits poor thermal conductivity in the 25-425 degree C range but shows good electrical conductivity has been developed by a team of researchers led by Dr Kanishka Biswas from Bengaluru’s Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research (JNCASR). The compound, silver copper telluride (AgCuTe), shows promise as a thermoelectric material for converting waste heat into electricity.

•Since nearly 65% of utilized energy is wasted as heat, the focus is on developing materials that exhibit good thermoelectric property with both glass- and metal-like properties. Potential applications of the thermoelectric technology are in automobile industry, chemical, thermal and steel power plants where large quantities of heat are wasted.

•Due to the low thermal conductivity of the material developed by JNCASR, one end of the 8 mm-long rod that is contact with waste heat remains hot while the other end maintains cold temperature. The temperature difference is essential for the generation of electrical voltage. At the same time, the material exhibits good electrical conductivity like metal. The results were published in the journal Angewandte Chemie.

•In the AgCuTe material, the silver atoms (cation) are weakly bound, giving rise to poor thermal conductivity due to the slow vibration of the lattice (soft lattice). At high temperatures, copper in the material further lowers the thermal conductivity along with silver. “Since the silver lattice vibrates slowly, it provides record low thermal conduction of 0.35 W per metre per kelvin, which is actually close to the glass,” Dr Biswas says.

•“Both cations [silver and copper] contribute to low thermal conductivity but silver contributes more. Over 170 degree C, both silver and copper ions flow like liquid within the rigid tellurium sublattice, thereby reducing the thermal conductivity to the level of glass without affecting the hole (electrical carrier) transport,” says Subhajit Roychowdhury from JNCASR and first author of the paper.

Tellurium lattice

•In contrast, the tellurium atoms (anion) are strongly bound and the lattice is very rigid. The strongly bound tellurium provides a conduction channel for holes thus rendering good electrical conductivity as seen in metals.

•“By combining silver and copper with tellurium we have made our material as a combination of glass and metal — poor thermal conductivity and good electrical conductivity,” Dr Biswas says.

•“Silver telluride does not have good thermoelectric property because it has higher thermal conductivity than our material,” says Roychowdhury.

•It is a challenging task to have glassy and metallic properties in a single material, which is the fundamental challenge in the field of thermoelectrics. “We addressed this challenge through structural chemistry by creating a bonding hierarchy in the material,” Dr Biswas says.

•The calculated efficiency to convert heat into electricity is 14% for the new material developed by JNCASR researchers. The lead telluride (PbTe) has higher efficiency of 18%. “But unlike lead telluride that contains lead, which is toxic, our material is lead-free,” he adds. The theoretical calculation to know the electronic structure was done in collaboration with Prof. Umesh V. Waghmare of JNCASR and coauthor of the paper. “We are trying to increase the efficiency by doping with different cations and anions,” Dr Biswas says.

πŸ“° NASA observes dramatic rise in sea levels

•The sea level may rise twice as high by 2100 as previously estimated because of climate change, a NASA study says. According to findings detailed in the journalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, rise in sea level may increase by up to 65 centimetres in the next 80 years, which will do to cause significant problems for coastal cities, reported on Friday.

•This is is believed to be a conservative estimate by scientists.

πŸ“° Rethinking public health

It can improve the quality and the efficiency of curative medicine

•Curative medicine or health care for medical conditions where a cure is considered achievable involves therapeutics, surgery and rehabilitation. Disease treatment is individual-centric, which involves an interaction between care-givers and patients. Hospitals and clinics are designed for the time-and-cost efficiency of care-givers and not for the convenience of patients. What then is health care?

•Those who believe that diseases are caused by forces beyond human control can only react to disease by seeking treatment. Ayurveda and scientific medicine say that illnesses either have causes that pertain to behaviours (lifestyle) or are due to intrusions from the environment.

•Knowledge about the origins of diseases can help prevent many of them, thus protecting health both in individuals and among people at large. Health in this way can be managed by preventing what we can and treating what we can’t. Therefore, managing health at an individual level is health care and at the community level, public health.

For the individual

•Health care includes health protection and disease prevention in advance and disease treatment after falling ill. Health care, like disease treatment, is individual-centric. Here, regular checks to detect early signs of aberration are essential and ought to be conducted routinely through antenatal care and immunisation. For adults, check-ups are needed to screen for diabetes, hypertension, breast and uterine cervix cancers. Early detection and interventions can protect health and save lives.

•In this light, a proposal by the NITI Aayog, to transform rural health sub-centres into ‘wellness clinics’ and take health care to rural people is a great idea.

Health management

•Community-level disease prevention and health protection, however, is a different ballgame. Interrupting transmission channels of disease-causing microbes is the most widely-used disease-prevention intervention by public health authorities. In this way, environmentally-transmitted infectious diseases are prevented en masse. For instance, iodised common salt prevents thyroid disease and consequent mental retardation in vulnerable women and children. Public health interventions are without interpersonal transactions and thus, not individual-centric.

•Public health is a term used for both the organisation or agency and its functions to prevent diseases, and to promote/protect the health of people. Health care is triggered by an individual’s initiative in seeking care in the public or private sectors whereas public health is initiated by the government, with everyone being duty-bound to cooperate.

•India does not have a ministry of public health or even a full-fledged division of public health in the health ministry. Patients seek only curative medicine, which suits the interests of medical professionals. Public health interventions are both environment- and population-centric; fields out of bounds for medical professionals whose clients are in clinics/hospitals. In covering up this systemic deficiency, a myth is perpetuated that public health is curative medicine through the public sector.

•The National Health Protection Scheme (NHPS) — called the world’s largest health-care programme — offers medical insurance to eligible families for financing curative medicine. It cannot address health protection and disease prevention. Conflating funding of disease treatment with health protection shows the government’s lack of clarity on the principles of health management.

‘More’ for ‘less’

•What India needs urgently is preventing disease through public health. This includes addressing brucellosis, cancers due to viral infections, chickenpox, chikungunya, cholera, dengue, dysentery, influenza, leptospirosis, malaria, measles, rubella, scrub typhus, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, viral encephalitis, viral hepatitis, etc. The more we prevent, the less we will need to treat. Public health will “unclutter” clinics and hospitals, improve quality and efficiency of curative medicine, reduce household expenditure for treatments, improve productivity and promote economic development.

•The wolf of lifestyle diseases is already at the door and without public health infrastructure it cannot be driven away. A country that cannot control tuberculosis and typhoid cannot control diabetes and hypertension.

•The government must translate its good intentions to promote health into a true NHPS by establishing a health protection agency, which is another name for public health infrastructure.