The HINDU Notes – 08th March 2018 - VISION

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Thursday, March 08, 2018

The HINDU Notes – 08th March 2018






πŸ“° ‘Provide safety to couples facing threat’

•Couples who face a threat to their lives from relatives or community Panchayats like khap should have a provision to inform the officer who is registering their marriage, so that the official can intimate the police to provide them with protection from ‘honour killing’, the Centre told the Supreme Court on Wednesday.

•“State governments should include a declaration by the couple who intend to have a court marriage if they apprehend a threat to their life and liberty,” Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand, for the government, recommended to the Supreme Court. The Centre acknowledged that “‘honour killing’ is neither separately defined or classified as an offence under the prevailing laws”. “It [‘honour killing’] is treated as murder,” the government said.

•A three-judge Bench led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra had sought the government’s suggestions for interim guidelines to protect young couples from honour killings. The proposed law against honour killing — the Prohibition of Interference with Freedom of Matrimonial Alliance Bill — is still under circulation among the States.

•The Centre recommended that the State government should take responsibility for the lives of couples who fear retaliation.

πŸ“° The power of numbers

Collecting data about sexual violence is a crucial step towards breaking the culture of silence

•Time magazine dedicated its person of the year (2017) cover to women who broke the silence surrounding the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and violence, especially in the workplace. It took a string of allegations by women with public images they could leverage and were willing to put at stake, to give heightened visibility to the widespread nature of violence against women by men in prominent positions.

The #MeToo movement

•If the emergence of the #MeToo movement, inspired by these public allegations, has revealed anything, it is the power of numbers. The subsequent solidarity around experiences of sexual violence, globally, has taken root in India too. However, given the genesis of the movement, we must ask ourselves: Is it not disconcerting that building this collective solidarity required publicly celebrated figures to come forward with their stories? Surely, experiences of ordinary women deserve the same recognition?

•We live in a world awash in statistics. We know what proportion of India’s population owns mobile phones and what proportion is overweight. We even know how many people defecate in the open. Yet when it comes to our knowledge about how many women experience sexual harassment and violence, we are at a loss. If we don’t know the contours of violence, how can we address it?

•It is easy, however, to say we need data on sexual harassment, but data collection in this area is extremely challenging. It is difficult to define sexual harassment; it is even more difficult to collect information about painful and stigmatising experiences. Results from India’s National Family Health Survey (NFHS) – IV provide testament to this challenge. NFHS asked questions about women’s experiences of sexual violence. About 5.5% of the women surveyed say they have experienced sexual violence; over 80% of these instances of violence are perpetrated by husbands.

•These results direct our attention to the home as the primary site for violence, away from public spaces and workplaces. This, no doubt, is misleading and largely reflects problems in survey design and execution. To paraphrase Ludwig Wittgenstein, an entire mythology is stored within our statistics or lack thereof.

Importance of phraseology

•Let us look at what and how NFHS asks about sexual violence. The phraseology of NFHS-IV is: “Has anyone ever forced you in any way to have sexual intercourse or perform any other sexual acts when you did not want to?” It then goes on to ask the identity of the perpetrator. Unsurprisingly, this bald question, most likely asked in semi-public settings, in the absence of lead-up and sensitivity, elicits largely negative responses. It, moreover, asks about non-consensual sexual acts; it does not account for sexual coercion tactics of the kind instigated by Harvey Weinstein. Such acts are forbidden under the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevention, Prohibition And Redressal) Act, 2013 which defines harassment as unwelcome physical advances, remarks and demands for sexual favours. The kinds of experiences examined by NFHS form only a part of this definition.

•There is also an important difference between reporting coercive overtures and ‘successful’ coercion since the latter brands and often stigmatises survivors of sexual misconduct. Some suggest, for instance, that it might have been easier for Angelina Jolie to come forward about Weinstein’s attempted coercion because she did not have to confess to actual violation. But distinctions of this kind are sensitive to definitions, question wording and settings in which interviews take place.

•We see, for instance, that men and women differ in their perceptions about the prevalence of sexual harassment. When the India Human Development Survey (IHDS), organised by the University of Maryland and the National Council of Applied Economic Research, asked men and women in over 40,000 households about how often young women in their neighbourhoods were harassed, 20% of women and 14% of men said this occurred ‘at least sometimes’ in 2005. In 2012, when the same households were interviewed again, 31% of women and 21% of men reported that harassment was prevalent in the same neighbourhoods. This suggests that women are far more likely to feel harassment is pervasive in their neighbourhoods than men; moreover, for both men and women, perceptions of sexual harassment increased by almost 10 percentage points between 2005 and 2012 in the same neighbourhoods.

•Lok surveys, designed by the Lok Foundation and administered by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy Pvt. Ltd. (CMIE), go one step further and ask women about their actual experiences of sexual harassment to nearly 78,000 women. When asked, how often have you experienced unwanted groping/touching by men, nearly 10% said often and an additional 7.5% said very often.

•Since we fully expect personal experiences of this nature to be underreported, over 17% women claiming they experience unwanted groping often or very often is striking. Of the 15.67% of women who reported experiencing groping/touching only ‘rarely,’ a fair number might have been under-reporting. Even more disturbing is the acceptance of sexual harassment. When both men and women were asked whether “women should tolerate eve-teasing as a normal part of life” only about 50% disagreed with this statement; others either agreed to some extent or had no opinion. Notably, of those who disagreed, 17.5% disagreed only ‘somewhat.’

Measuring attitudes

•These experiences have an insidious effect on women’s lives and ability to participate in educational, work and/or social activities. IDFC Institutes’ survey of over 20,000 households in four cities asked households when they start worrying about the safety of men and women within their families who may be outside the home and unaccompanied. In Delhi, the city where perhaps fear is most prevalent, almost no household worries that a male member is outside at 7 p.m., but about 20% of the households start worrying about a female member. By 9 p.m., the proportion of households worrying increases to 40% for men and a whopping 90% for women.

•What do we find missing in these statistics? There is no mention of sexual harassment and violence against women in the workplace. To the best of our knowledge, there is minimal data on workplace harassment in India. Here, silence speaks louder than statistics. The challenges associated with collecting data on sexual harassment are multiple. Not only must we find the right words to ask about these difficult experiences; we must find privacy and safety and guard against further stigmatising survivors of sexual harassment and violence. Data must be collected and interpreted with sensitivity in order to do justice to the struggles women encounter in the face of gendered and sexual violence. However, collecting and disseminating data about sexual violence is the first step towards breaking the culture of silence and finding ways of combating violence against women.

πŸ“° Balkrishna Doshi wins architecture’s top Pritzker Prize, first Indian to do so

His designs include the IIM-Bangalore; Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology, Ahmedabad; cultural spaces in Ahmedabad such as Tagore Memorial Hall, the Institute of Indology, and Premabhai Hall; and private residence Kamala House (Ahmedabad), among many others.

•Nonagenarian architect and reputed urban planner Balkrishna Doshi has been named this year’s winner of architecture’s highest honour — the Pritzker Prize, becoming the first Indian to do so.

•His designs include the IIM-Bangalore; Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology, Ahmedabad; cultural spaces in Ahmedabad such as Tagore Memorial Hall, the Institute of Indology, and Premabhai Hall; and private residence Kamala House (Ahmedabad), among many others.

•The architect also designed Aranya Low Cost Housing (Indore, 1989), which currently accommodates over 80,000 individuals through a system of houses, courtyards and a labyrinth of internal pathways.

•Tom Pritzker, chairman of the Hyatt Foundation that sponsors the award made the ammouncement in Chicago, selecting Doshi as the 2018 Pritzker Architecture Prize Laureate.

•The award ceremony will take place at the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto this May.

•Influenced by masters of 20th-century architecture, Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, known as Le Corbusier, and Louis Khan, Doshi has been able to interpret architecture and transform it into built works that respect eastern culture while enhancing the quality of living in India.

•His ethical and personal approach to architecture has touched lives of every socio-economic class across a broad spectrum of genres since the 1950s. “My works are an extension of my life, philosophy and dreams trying to create treasury of the architectural spirit. I owe this prestigious prize to my guru, Le Corbusier. His teachings led me to question identity and compelled me to discover new regionally adopted contemporary expression for a sustainable holistic habitat,” Mr. Doshi said.

•He added the award reaffirmed his belief that life celebrates when lifestyle and architecture fuse. “The work of Balkrishna Doshi truly underscores the mission of the Prize — demonstrating the art of architecture and an invaluable service to humanity,” Mr. Pritzker said.

•“I am honoured to present the award to an architect who has contributed more than 60 years of service to us all,” he added.

πŸ“° Sri Lanka must act firmly on anti-Muslim violence

Sri Lanka’s government must decisively and impartially put down anti-Muslim violence

•The sudden spurt in violence targeting Muslims in Sri Lanka may only be limited in comparison to previous racial attacks in the island, but it is serious enough to cast a dark shadow on ethnic relations. That it has caused enough concern and disquiet to warrant the imposition of a state of emergency across the island is a reflection of the prevailing precarious situation. This is the first time since 2011 that Colombo has had to invoke emergency provisions to bolster the security apparatus, indicating official concern that the current violence could escalate. As an urgently needed security measure, this is a crucial intervention as it enables the quick deployment of armed forces in areas of strife, and strengthens the hand of the law and order machinery. The reverberations of early incidents that took place in Kandy district are still being felt. The first spark that ignited the violence would have gone down as just an instance of road rage, as a Sinhalese truck driver was beaten to death by a group of Muslims for blocking their way. But this was followed by attacks on Muslim houses, business establishments and mosques. There was one more death, that of a Muslim man, whose burnt body was found in a house. Hardline Sinhala groups then waded in with rumour and inflammatory social media posts, adding to the incendiary mood.

•Muslims, the third largest ethnic constituent in Sri Lanka, were not a party to the protracted armed conflict that ended in 2009. However, they were also victims then, suffering massacres and displacement at the hands of the Tamil militants. In the manner of their political mobilisation, they have remained an integral part of the Sri Lankan mainstream. In recent years, Muslims have been targeted by extreme right-wing groups, which are presumably looking for new enemies after the fall of the LTTE. The violence has sometimes been attributed to Sinhala majoritarian groups such as the Bodu Bala Sena. More recently, there was hate-mongering against the community in the backdrop of some Rohingya refugees seeking shelter in Sri Lanka. Post-war triumphalism had proved to be the undoing of the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, and it is the duty of the present rulers to avoid a relapse into ethnic strife. The present regime does not carry an anti-minority tag, but it has still attracted criticism for allowing an atmosphere of impunity to prevail over the last few days. It should strive to avoid the impression that hardliners in the majority community can get away with anti-minority intimidation and violence. President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe should redouble efforts to ensure that the authorities on the ground act with decisiveness and impartiality.

πŸ“° Centre’s reply sought on Rohingya

•The Supreme Court asked the government on Wednesday to reply to a plea by Rohingya refugees to treat them on a par with the Sri Lankan refugees in India as far as health care and education are concerned.

•The court was informed by Prashant Bhushan, cousel for the Rohingya, that schemes and provisions similar to those made availamust be provided to the Rohingya refugees.

•Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta submitted the government would file a reply by March 16.

πŸ“° Aadhaar uncertainty can’t go on, says judge

Justice Chandrachud was referring to the deadline for its linkage

•Justice D.Y. Chandrachud became an unexpected voice from within the Supreme Court to highlight the prevailing uncertainty and dangers, especially in the banking and financial sectors, of waiting till the “last minute” to extend the March 31 deadline for Aadhaar linkage.

•One of the five judges on the Constitution Bench hearing the challenge to the Aadhaar scheme, Justice Chandrachud agreed with the apprehensions raised by petitioners on whether the March 31 deadline would be extended or not.

•The Bench, led by Chief Justice Dipak Misra, had so far remained non-committal on the extension, saying there was still time. On December 15, the Supreme Court had extended the deadline till March 31 to link Aadhaar with bank accounts, mobile phones and several other essential services, welfare schemes and benefits.

Financial system

•“We are dealing with the entire financial system… We cannot let this state of uncertainty prevail… We cannot tell them, like on March 27, whether the deadline is extended or not… A banker cannot be expected to seek compliance from customers within seven days,” Justice Chandrachud addressed Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal on Wednesday.

•Justice Chandrachud’s observations and the repeated urging of the petitioners’ lawyers, including senior advocates K.V. Vishwanathan, Arvind P. Datar and Shyam Diwan, to extend the March 31 deadline saw the Chief Justice react positively in favour of an extension.

•“Extension of deadline… that we will do. Let them [arguments by petitioners’ lawyers in the Aadhaar case] finish. We will pass the order,” Chief Justice Misra orally observed.

•Justice A.K. Sikri indicated from the Bench that it may pass an order to extend the deadline on the next day of hearing, March 13.

πŸ“° Cabinet approves easing spectrum cap

Move expected to aid mergers, acquisitions; telcos get option to defer payment on auction purchase

•The Union Cabinet, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on Wednesday approved relaxing the cap on spectrum holding by telcos, a move that is expected to aid mergers and acquisitions in the sector.

•The Cabinet has also given telcos the option to extend the time period for payment of spectrum bought in auction to 16 years from the present 10 years. This is likely to help with the cash flow in the short to medium term, while adding Rs. 74,446 crore till 2034-35 to the government’s kitty due to no reduction in interest rates.

•The relief measures, based on the recommendations by the Inter Ministerial Group on stressed assets in the telecom sector, will facilitate investments, consolidation and enhance ease of doing business, said an official release.

•The cap on overall spectrum that can be held by an operator in a circle has been raised to 35% from the current 25%. In line with earlier recommendations of TRAI, the current cap of 50% on intra-band spectrum holding has also been removed.

•Instead, there will be a cap of 50% on the combined spectrum holding in the sub-1 GHz bands (700 MHz, 800 MHz and 900 MHz bands). There will be no cap on individual or combined spectrum holding in the above 1 GHz band.

•The government is hopeful that this move would encourage participation in future spectrum auctions.

‘Facilitate consolidation’

•Rajan Mathews, director general, COAI said, “The new spectrum caps will facilitate consolidation in the industry – Reliance Jio-Reliance Communications and Idea-Vodafone.” However, the debt payment extension will have only minimal benefit unless the interest rate is also reduced, Mr. Mathews said.

•He added that the systemic issues of the industry such as excessive taxes and levies of 30% or more remained unaddressed.

•“With the restructuring of the deferred payment liability, the cash flow for the telecom service providers will increase in the immediate timeframe providing them some relief. Revising the limit for the spectrum cap holding will facilitate consolidation of telecom licensees and may encourage the participation in the future auction,” the government said.

•“The telecom operators will now be able to trade in excess [subject to the prescribed time limit] as well as the current spectrum held by them with other telecom operators depending upon their current spectrum holdings,” said Niren Patel, partner, Khaitan & Co.

πŸ“° India-China trade hits a record $84.4 billion

Bilateral tensions are no dampener

•The India-China bilateral trade has reached $84.44 billion last year, a historic high, notwithstanding bilateral tensions over a host of issues, including the Doklam standoff.

‘40% rise in exports’

•A rare novelty of the bilateral trade, otherwise dominated by the Chinese exports, was about 40% increase of Indian exports to China in 2017 totalling to $16.34 billion, data of the Chinese General Administration of Customs accessed by PTI here showed.

•The bilateral trade in 2017 rose by 18.63% year-on-year to reach $84.44 billion. This is regarded as a landmark, as the volume of bilateral trade for the first time touched $80 billion, well above the $71.18 billion registered last year.

•Trade touched a historic high despite bilateral tensions over a number of issues including the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, China blocking India’s efforts to bring about a UN ban on J-e-M leader Masood Azhar, Beijing blocking India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group as well as the Doklam standoff. Trade had stagnated around $70 billion, despite the leaders of both nations setting a $100 billion target for 2015.

πŸ“° Banks face Rs. 20,000 cr. bond losses: report

‘Lenders holding 10% more bonds’

•With yields on sovereign bonds climbing, Indian banks are staring at Rs. 20,000 crore losses in the bond portfolio in the January-March quarter, which is three times more than the losses incurred in the Oct.-Dec. quarter, Credit Suisse said in a note to its clients.

•The report said banks were having huge liquidity post the demonetisation exercise of November-December 2016 and since there was no credit demand, banks invested heavily in government papers. As a result, banks hold 10% more bonds than what is mandated, which is the highest in last 12 years.

•Banks are required to hold 19.5% of their deposits in government papers.

•The brokerage suggested intervention by the central bank to help banks to cut losses.

‘RBI must intervene’

•“RBI intervention by either raising the HTM [held to maturity] threshold or buyback of treasuries may be needed to help contain the MTM [mark-to-market] hit for the banks,” the report said.

•During the January-March quarter, yield on the 10-year benchmark government paper has risen by about 48 basis points.

•“Rising bond losses will add to concerns on the adequacy of the recap Plan,” the brokerage further noted in its report.

πŸ“° ‘U.S. move to raise import duty may hit domestic steel market’

Steel-surplus nations may be encouraged to divert exports to India, says ISA

•The proposal by the Trump administration to levy a steep tariff on steel imports will encourage steel-surplus nations to divert their exports to “vibrant consumption centres like India and distort domestic markets considerably,” according to the Indian Steel Association (ISA).

‘Not appropriate’

•The association said that U.S. move to club India, a steel non-mature country, with other steel surplus nations “is not appropriate.”

•In a statement, ISA, the representative body of Indian steel makers, said, “the proposal by the U.S. to include India among several others is not desirable as a policy measure.” The U.S. proposal would dent the growth prospects of a developing nation like India, whose production and consumption were inward looking, the association added. D. Bhaskar Chatterjee, secretary general of ISA, said that a nuanced distinction was imperative prior to imposition of across-the-board tariffs on the basis of a country’s steel production motives. The proposal, if implemented, would result in major shifts in existing global trade flows of steel and steel products, ISA said.

•“Though India is the third largest producer of steel and produces 12% of the world’s non-Chinese production of steel, it has only a 2.7% share in the U.S. imports,” it said.

•ISA also pointed out that there were a total of 16 trade remedies in place in the U.S. against Indian steel companies. This included 10 anti-dumping and six countervailing duties. “All these had made it nearly impossible to export to the U.S.,” the association said.

πŸ“° The ecologically subsidised city

What Dhrubajyoti Ghosh closely observed and learnt from Kolkata’s wetland communities

•If ever there was someone who lived true to his name, it was Dhrubajyoti Ghosh. In Sanskrit, “Dhrubajyoti” refers to the light ( jyoti ) emitted by the pole star ( dhruva tara ). The ecologist, who passed away in February, was unwavering in his commitment to the cause he lived for and fearlessly defended: saving the ecologically critical East Kolkata Wetlands from the greed of developers for almost four decades, right up until his passing away.

Rural ecological wisdom

•What Ghosh discovered serendipitously, as a public sanitation engineer in the early 1980s, was that Kolkata’s wastewater is introduced into and detained in shallow waterbodies ( bheris in Bengali) which serve as oxidation ponds because of the presence of algae. Under the open tropical sun, the water undergoes change, getting comprehensively treated and cleaned as the bacteria disintegrate and the algae proliferate, serving as food for fish. The treated water is used by villagers in the area to grow vegetables and paddy.

•The beauty of what Ghosh discovered is that these villagers have been following such sane ecological practices for many decades without any help from the State, and well beyond the gaze of the media. It suggests remarkable ecological wisdom on the part of largely illiterate villagers, based on knowledge of local conditions and wetland hydrology.

•Thanks to his dedicated work, the 125 sq km area of the wetlands were recognised internationally in 2002 as a ‘Ramsar site’, or a wetland of international significance, which made it incumbent by both the State and the Central governments to protect them from invasive encroachments.

•To the untrained eye, wetlands are easily and frequently mistaken to be wasteland, a point of view that shows remarkable ecological ignorance. Greater Kolkata, with a population of more than 14 million people, is one of the largest metropolitan areas in the world. A growing population of this size in a developing economy puts huge pressures on the infrastructure, sanitation being foremost among them.

Nature at work

•Kolkata is fortunate to be home to the world’s largest organic ‘sewage treatment plant’, the wetlands. Unobserved by the rest of the world, sun-fed algae and the bacteria in the sewage perform this wondrous function.

•A conservative estimate of this great service being performed quietly by nature would give us this data: the capacity to treat 750 million litres of wastewater per day. In monetary terms it would be over $25 billion (Rs. 162,500 crore) annually.

•But this is only one part of it. These wetlands are also home to a wide variety of aquatic life, vegetation, and hundreds of species of birds. Moreover, after nature’s organic treatment, the sewage that drains into the wetlands results in 55,000 tonnes of vegetables and paddy and 10,000 tonnes of fish annually, giving a community of 100,000 people a livelihood. In effect, the wastewater works as a costless fertilizer to produce cheap food for what Ghosh called an “ecologically subsidised” city.

•Because these invaluable benefits cannot be calculated, they are often brushed aside in the calculations of developers. No textbook of development economics in India or elsewhere talks about “the developer’s model of development”, the one that is actually the dominant understanding of development at work across 21st century India.

•In 2005, the UN Millennium Ecosystem Assessment found ecological degradation to be more prominent within wetlands than any other ecosystem on Earth.

•Dhrubajyoti Ghosh recognised this and did more than perhaps any other individual in creating public awareness in India about the need to conserve its wetlands. His efforts were recognised internationally, when he was named, in 1990, as a UN Global 500 Roll of Honour laureate. In 2016, he received the prestigious CEM Luc Hoffmann Award from the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

•Ghosh was an ecologist, not an environmentalist. Based on his close observations of wetland communities and their organically renewable livelihoods, he argued for several new concepts relevant to ecological pedagogy and policy-making. For him, the environment was not a mere after-thought in the operations of a market economy; and the forgotten natural world was no mere ‘resource’. Such a perspective illustrates the holistic quality that an ecologist brings to his vision and work. Ghosh was that sort of a man.

πŸ“° ‘A fight for a cleaner future’

Venezuelan Ambassador says U.S. doesn’t want to worry about climate change

•More than 20 heads of state and government will travel to Delhi this weekend to attend the International Solar Alliance’s founding conference, hosted jointly by India and France, but few are expected to generate the headlines made by Venezuela’s tough talking strongman leader Nicolas Maduro, who has locked horns with the U.S. Venezuela’s Ambassador to India Augusto Montiel spoke about the upcoming meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mr. Maduro.

President Maduro is making his first visit to India for two days for the International Solar Alliance. How significant is this visit expected to be?

•This is a significant meeting as it is the first between President Maduro and PM Modi. It is also important because, at this summit, the International Solar Alliance, we will recognise that the future generations of our countries deserve respect. Venezuela agrees with India and PM Modi that we need this platform to fight for a cleaner future. Some other countries like the U.S. want to say that we shouldn’t worry about climate change, don’t worry about the future, and sell everything in the present even if it means destroying the future.

But even Venezuela is increasing its oil production and is a major exporter to India. Is there a contradiction between that and the Solar Alliance’s plans?

•I think it is a perfect example of where Venezuela, a major founder OPEC country, is showing the way, and saying that renewable energy is necessary and we care about the environment. Oil is a geo-strategic resource and countries of the world must see it as a reason to cooperate, not a reason to dominate others. Despite the fact that Venezuela sits on the world’s largest energy reserves and coal, we have built renewable energy sources. Today, 60% of our energy comes from hydropower.

What is on the India-Venezuela bilateral agenda?

•To begin with, in spite of the economic sabotage perpetrated by our northern neighbours [the U.S.], India and Venezuela have kept up their oil relations. We have increased production of oil, which is jointly developed by Indian oil companies. Also, we will discuss cooperation in pharma production. The Venezuelan government provides all medicines, many of which we procure from India, and we have protected Indian pharmaceutical companies from American and European MNCs who want to stop them.

•We also hope for agricultural cooperation. Venezuela has depended on oil and mining resources for the past centuries, but we now want to diversify, and we would like Indian agricultural agencies to impart their knowledge and technology to us.

You have spoken of economic sabotage by others, but Venezuela’s President Maduro is himself accused of squeezing the Venezuelan population, of mismanagement and corruption, and human rights violations. How do you explain the pictures we see of hospitals where medicines have run out, queues for food, protesters being beaten back by the police?

•That’s a one-sided view of Venezuela promoted by Western news agencies. The truth is that Venezuela has some of the strongest human development indicators, and a vibrant democracy. [The West] accused Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, and then said that was a mistake, despite millions being killed there in the scenario they created. Now they want to create the story that President Maduro is a dictator, but Venezuela sees more elections and a higher turnout than most countries.

You accuse the U.S. of economic sabotage. Why?

•In 2001, they did this with Iraq, in 2009, they did it with Libya, then with Syria. They want to create the same situation in Venezuela: spread total chaos in the country. The whole point of Venezuela is that we own the world’s largest natural reserves [of oil]. U.S. and their agencies and European powers are not seeking democracy in Venezuela, they are after the oil. If we are blockaded for medicines financially, like they did with Cuba for 60 years, isn’t this criminal? But we are protecting our sovereignty. We have voting systems, and local, regional and national elections, and we have had 23 elections since 1999.

What will President Maduro’s message be when he comes to India, given India and the U.S. have very close ties?

•If the U.S. and India have got good relations, if India imports oil from the U.S., that’s fine with us. But India also has good relations with Venezuela, and it imports one-fifth of its oil needs from Venezuela. Every country has the right to its strategic commercial relations, as India does, also with Iran, China, Russia and Brazil. So no one should come and interfere in any of those relations. And India is a sufficiently mature and developed country to know who it wants to be friends with.

•Despite that, PM Modi was the only Indian PM not to attend the Non Aligned Summit in Venezuela in 2016, which appeared to indicate a discomfort with President Maduro’s government….

•That was never indicated to us. Both India and Venezuela collaborate in many multilateral platforms. India sent its Vice President to the NAM summit, and if PM Modi thought that was the appropriate representation, that is his prerogative.

πŸ“° Assam govt. moves to check hit-and-runs at Kaziranga

Venezuelan Ambassador says U.S. doesn’t want to worry about climate change

•More than 20 heads of state and government will travel to Delhi this weekend to attend the International Solar Alliance’s founding conference, hosted jointly by India and France, but few are expected to generate the headlines made by Venezuela’s tough talking strongman leader Nicolas Maduro, who has locked horns with the U.S. Venezuela’s Ambassador to India Augusto Montiel spoke about the upcoming meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mr. Maduro.

President Maduro is making his first visit to India for two days for the International Solar Alliance. How significant is this visit expected to be?

•This is a significant meeting as it is the first between President Maduro and PM Modi. It is also important because, at this summit, the International Solar Alliance, we will recognise that the future generations of our countries deserve respect. Venezuela agrees with India and PM Modi that we need this platform to fight for a cleaner future. Some other countries like the U.S. want to say that we shouldn’t worry about climate change, don’t worry about the future, and sell everything in the present even if it means destroying the future.

But even Venezuela is increasing its oil production and is a major exporter to India. Is there a contradiction between that and the Solar Alliance’s plans?

•I think it is a perfect example of where Venezuela, a major founder OPEC country, is showing the way, and saying that renewable energy is necessary and we care about the environment. Oil is a geo-strategic resource and countries of the world must see it as a reason to cooperate, not a reason to dominate others. Despite the fact that Venezuela sits on the world’s largest energy reserves and coal, we have built renewable energy sources. Today, 60% of our energy comes from hydropower.

What is on the India-Venezuela bilateral agenda?

•To begin with, in spite of the economic sabotage perpetrated by our northern neighbours [the U.S.], India and Venezuela have kept up their oil relations. We have increased production of oil, which is jointly developed by Indian oil companies. Also, we will discuss cooperation in pharma production. The Venezuelan government provides all medicines, many of which we procure from India, and we have protected Indian pharmaceutical companies from American and European MNCs who want to stop them.

•We also hope for agricultural cooperation. Venezuela has depended on oil and mining resources for the past centuries, but we now want to diversify, and we would like Indian agricultural agencies to impart their knowledge and technology to us.

You have spoken of economic sabotage by others, but Venezuela’s President Maduro is himself accused of squeezing the Venezuelan population, of mismanagement and corruption, and human rights violations. How do you explain the pictures we see of hospitals where medicines have run out, queues for food, protesters being beaten back by the police?

•That’s a one-sided view of Venezuela promoted by Western news agencies. The truth is that Venezuela has some of the strongest human development indicators, and a vibrant democracy. [The West] accused Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, and then said that was a mistake, despite millions being killed there in the scenario they created. Now they want to create the story that President Maduro is a dictator, but Venezuela sees more elections and a higher turnout than most countries.

You accuse the U.S. of economic sabotage. Why?

•In 2001, they did this with Iraq, in 2009, they did it with Libya, then with Syria. They want to create the same situation in Venezuela: spread total chaos in the country. The whole point of Venezuela is that we own the world’s largest natural reserves [of oil]. U.S. and their agencies and European powers are not seeking democracy in Venezuela, they are after the oil. If we are blockaded for medicines financially, like they did with Cuba for 60 years, isn’t this criminal? But we are protecting our sovereignty. We have voting systems, and local, regional and national elections, and we have had 23 elections since 1999.

What will President Maduro’s message be when he comes to India, given India and the U.S. have very close ties?

•If the U.S. and India have got good relations, if India imports oil from the U.S., that’s fine with us. But India also has good relations with Venezuela, and it imports one-fifth of its oil needs from Venezuela. Every country has the right to its strategic commercial relations, as India does, also with Iran, China, Russia and Brazil. So no one should come and interfere in any of those relations. And India is a sufficiently mature and developed country to know who it wants to be friends with.





•Despite that, PM Modi was the only Indian PM not to attend the Non Aligned Summit in Venezuela in 2016, which appeared to indicate a discomfort with President Maduro’s government….

•That was never indicated to us. Both India and Venezuela collaborate in many multilateral platforms. India sent its Vice President to the NAM summit, and if PM Modi thought that was the appropriate representation, that is his prerogative.

πŸ“° Rooftop energy

Surveys to map usable rooftops for solar power must be undertaken nationwide

•Bengaluru’s aerial mission to produce a three dimensional map of rooftop solar power potential using Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) data can give this key source of power a big boost. Similar mapping exercises have been carried out in several countries over the past few years to assess how much of a city’s power needs can be met through rooftop solar installations. A survey helps determine usable rooftops, separating them from green spaces, and analyses the quality of the solar resource. With steady urbanisation, solar maps of this kind will help electricity utilities come up with good business cases and investment vehicles and give residents an opportunity to become partners in the effort. An initiative to rapidly scale up rooftop solar installations is needed if the target of creating 40 GW of capacity connected to the grid by 2022 is to be realised. Rooftop solar power growth has demonstrated an overall positive trend, including in the fourth quarter of 2017 when tenders for 220 MW represented a doubling of the achievement in the previous quarter. But this will need to be scaled up massively to achieve the national target. Going forward, domestic policy has to evaluate the impact of factors such as imposition of safeguard duty and anti-dumping duty on imports, and levy of the goods and services tax on photovoltaic modules. The industry is apprehensive that the shine could diminish for the sector during the current year, unless policy is attuned to the overall objective of augmenting capacity.

•Major solar projects that connect to the grid often face the challenge of land acquisition and transmission connectivity. This has led to a delay in planned capacity coming on stream during 2017: nearly 3,600 MW did not get commissioned during the last quarter, out of a scheduled 5,100 MW. What this underscores is the importance of exploiting rooftop solar, which represents only about 11% of the country’s 19,516 MW total installed capacity at the start of 2018. The Centre should come up with incentives, given the enormous investment potential waiting to be tapped and the real estate that can be rented. The southern States and Rajasthan together host the bulk of national solar infrastructure on a large scale. With some forward-looking policymaking, they can continue to lead by adding rooftop capacity. India, which is a founder-member of the International Solar Alliance launched in Paris during the climate change conference more than two years ago, must strive to be a global leader. Initiatives such as the Bengaluru mapping project can contribute to assessments of both real potential and risk. This is crucial for projects on a large scale involving significant exposure for financial institutions, including banks. With ongoing improvements to solar cell efficiency and battery technology, rooftops will only get more attractive in the future.

πŸ“° Be alert to Operation 'Dhakka': on the toppling of the Lenin statue

The toppling of the Lenin statue in Tripura is a reminder of the grave danger to Indian democracy

•There one moment, gone the next — statue of Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov, known internationally as Lenin, March 5, 2018, Belonia, Tripura. “Bharat Mata ki jai!” saffron-sporting men yelled as they felled the statue of the Russian communist revolutionary. It did not matter to them that Lenin had hailed that same Bharat, its revolutionary ardour, for struggling to free itself from British imperialist and indigenous yokes. It did not matter to them that Lenin had been the inspiration to generations of Indians, leaders and led, in their strivings for a just Bharat. What mattered to them was that Lenin had inspired the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led government in that northeastern State, which had been un-seated after an un-broken 25 years of ‘red rule’.

•A second Lenin statue was to be similarly toppled at another site in the State shortly thereafter. A report said the statue’s decapitated head was turned into a ‘football’. Visuals of the statue’s ‘slaying’ and of the ‘slain’ figure lying amidst what looks like garbage sped across the globe. And millions watched them in disbelief. ‘What ever happened to Tripura? Where is Indian democracy headed?’

Operation Dhakka

•And the chronology unfolded in thinking, remembering minds of other demolitions, charrings that seem to belong to a family of hate, of violent hate. The Babri Masjid, Ayodhya, December 6, 1992. The Wali Dakhani Mazaar, just outside the office of the Commissioner of Police, Ahmedabad, March 1, 2002. An estimated 272 minority shrines in Gujarat over six days thereafter. St. Sebastian’s Church, Dilshad Bagh, Delhi, Christmas eve, 2014.

•“Ek dhakka zor se (one more shove, and make it strong)” was an inflammatory cry that was heard at the time of the Babri Masjid demolition. The list of demolitions together can be called ‘Operation Dhakka’.

•What does one say to this sample scroll?

•That the mindset of the people of India is now happy with the bulldozer? That it now endorses the blade that cuts, crushes, decimates the ‘other’? Does it approve the claw that then moves the heap away?

The response

•The nationwide response to the vandalisation rejects that despondent hypothesis. So swift was the reaction, all in real time, even before the news condensed into cold print the following day, that the Bharatiya Janata Party functionary who tweeted with the speed of sound to the effect that ‘Lenin today, Periyar tomorrow’ had to retract that with the speed of light. Thank God, one might say, begging Periyar’s atheistic pardon, for Periyar’s giant stature. Even in death, his stature remain stronger than any statue bulldozer.

•And the Prime Minister, sensitive to world opinion, and aware of the reaction to the Tripura shame, has asked the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to say that what has happened is not acceptable. He has done what is only right and proper. And quickly enough. He deserves to be complimented. The new Chief Minister, too, deserves appreciation for his expression of disapproval. Those who said things that seemed to explain away the dhakka will be hopefully be sobered by the Prime Minister’s admonition.

But is the admonition enough?

•The questions remain: Why do supporters of his party feel that they can do what they have done, in the first place? Why do they feel they can do that and get away with it? Or that – even if the administration was to prosecute them – the dhakka has done its work and so, yay!

•The Prime Minister’s chastisement, last year, of cow vigilantism was salutary, though it came not nearly as fast as his response to the Lenin dhakka. But did cow vigilantism stop? Is the cattle trade now free of fear? We know the answer.

•Why? Because the culture of dhakka is abroad. And so it will be until India gets another clear message, direct and unmistakable, in continuation of his advisory to the MHA, from the Prime Minister saying he is deeply troubled and hurt by what happened in Tripura, that no one owing allegiance to ‘saffron’ will ever conduct such an ‘Operation Dhakka’ again, not just because a statue of a great world leader was vandalised but because that vandalisation reflects political coarseness, un-democratic belligerence.

•Bullies are not democrats. And democracy is not a bully. That adds up to a paradox: the bullying of democracy and the enfranchising of the bully.

•Democracy, as organised for us by our Constitution, does not disentitle bullies from participating in election campaigns, electoral contests. Why? Because, to borrow and adapt, begging his pardon, Gandhi’s famous description of God, the bully is “an indefinable mysterious power… which makes itself felt and yet defies all proof…”

•Unveiling the electoral process for the electing population, our democracy says to the voter what a voter may or may not do as that essential digit in democracy, namely, the elector. It says to the candidate and campaigner what they may or may not do in the run-up to the polls. It says to election officers what they may or may not do as the polls are on. It says to Presidents and Governors what they should or should not do, how they should and should not act when scrutinising results to see who should be called to form governments.

•But democracy does not tell the public to not let the anti-social, the anti-democracy bully take the law into his hands and hold peace to ransom, peaceful change to ransom, the democratic process itself to ransom. Democracy does not tell us that but governance can, administrations should. And that, through the medium of the laws, the dicta of ‘law and order’.

•Operation Dhakka has therefore happened right under democracy’s nose and above governments’ heads. It has happened, I said. But that is surely an under-statement and, in fact, a mis-statement. It has been allowed to happen, it has been enabled to happen. ‘No flout without clout.’ Certainly no flout of the scale that Operation Dhakka represents.

•But stopping the culture of dhakka cannot be left to the administration’s law and order maintenance mechanism.

•Relay and retaliatory dhakkas are likely, with the defacement of a Periyar statue having been already attempted, incredibly, and a Syama Prasad Mukherjee statue in Kolkata being black-inked. This is an incendiary risk which only political leadership can address.

•Treating the risk as a ‘law and order matter’ is not the answer, for the dhakkachallenge runs deeper. It threatens to erode the very fabric of our democracy.

•It is imperative that all democratic forces unite in saying no one should repeat or retaliate in copy-cat shames, the Tripura shame. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s statement has been frank and fearless. “Karl Marx or Mohamati [The Great] Lenin are not my leaders,” she said.“But they do matter in Russia. Different people are leaders in different countries and different places formed this [the world]… but you [the BJP] do not have the right to raze the statues of Marx or Lenin, just because you came to power.”

Bulldoze bulldozing

•Strong words. The communist parties of India and the Trinamool Congress can recall violence for which they hold the other squarely responsible. But surely the time has come for them and all parties that sense a new danger from dhakka-ism to democracy to now arouse India’s faith in democratic choice and thereby bulldoze bulldozing.

πŸ“° Our toasters are brave

Living with the Internet of Things

•The talking appliances of the fairytale ‘Beauty and the Beast’ would hardly cause a ripple today for we would have imagined them to be connected to the Internet. From there to the computer-animated film, Toy Story (1995), which use anthropomorphic toys, is perhaps a seamless journey of imagination. Let us not forget the 1980 children’s novel by Thomas M. Disch, The Brave Little Toaster: A Bedtime Story for Small Appliances in between.

•Today, the “Internet of Things” (IoT), the term coined by Peter T. Lewis in 1985, is threatening to take control of the planet and turn the world around us into a real Toyland.

•Interestingly, one of the first IoTs is perhaps what John Romkey created — a toaster that could be turned on and off over the Internet for the Interop conference (1989). In an article in BusinessWeek (1999), Neil Gross wrote: “In the next century, planet earth will don an electronic skin. It will use the Internet as a scaffold to support and transmit its sensations.” Today’s appliances can communicate with each other, interact with people, and even to a degree act out compelling stories by themselves.

•IoT has its role in every bit of life today; we withdraw money from ATMs; business organisations track consumer behaviour, which makes way for ‘smarter’ products and services, and a few sensors can “optimise” our lives by monitoring a person’s heart rate, respiration, sleep cycle on a 24x7 basis. We might know the location of buses we wait for while waiting at bus stops. An unsecured webcam overlooks the storeroom of a store. A few thousand sensors, systematically placed all around a city, might accurately track traffic rule violations, mob violence, or other irregularities. This might be the immediate style of functioning of today’s “Smart Cities”.

A growing market

•During 2008, the number of “things” connected to the Internet surpassed the number of people on Earth.

•According to Cisco, 50 billion connected “things” will be used globally in 2020. It is predicted “that the worldwide IoT market will grow to $7.1 trillion by 2020, compared to $1.9 trillion in 2013. By 2020, it’s estimated that 90% of cars will be connected to the Internet, compared to 10% in 2012”. But, we must keep in mind that the IoT would generate loads of data, ‘Big Data’ and ‘IoT’ being two sides of the same coin.

•A lot of our personal and lifestyle data are shared through ‘smart’ objects, and we don’t even understand that. Your breakfast time, TV watching schedule, and even when your house remains empty are pieces of information sure to get exposed through the IoT, posing a serious security and privacy threat. Hackers may exploit such weak spots. Preventing such attacks is a daunting task. Software must be designed accordingly and remote devices locked down as well — an almost impossible task in today’s world. We need to be alert while interacting with the new ecosystem of appliances. The users of the IoT also have to be ‘smart’, keeping security concerns in mind.

The future

•And is there any danger of recreating a ‘Toy Story’-type environment in practice, such as addictive personalities and leadership conflicts? For now, scenario-planning is still mostly drawn from the realm of fantasy. Think about Andy’s room in Toy Story . The arrival of a new toy, “Buzz Lightyear”, creates a sense of insecurity among the older toys, with the current leader, “Woody”, even feeling that this leadership is under threat. With different appliances being manufactured by different companies, this sort of ‘war’ is already very much on. How far might this go? And how does one handle such a dystopian future?

•Also, an underused appliance might even want to move out — think of Brad, the Toaster. We need to decide how we would like our smart objects to behave and think about how to design communicative user interfaces for the IoT. The dilemmas visualised in Toy Story and Brad, the Toaster might be of use to designers.

•So where are we headed with the IoT? Is its scope restricted to subjects such as personal health, homes and cities only? Again drawing from fiction, in the recent Hollywood movie, Her (2013), lonely and depressed Theodore develops a relationship with Samantha, an artificially intelligent computer operating system personified through a female voice. This can be taken to show that the prospects and the danger of the IoT tend “to infinity and beyond”, viz. the catchphrase of Buzz Lightyear in Toy Story . As every Toaster is now brave, there remains a shade of uncertainty.

πŸ“° U.S., China battle it out for dominance in technology

As national security and economic power get linked, their fight is redefining the rules of engagement

•As the U.S. and China look to protect their national security needs and economic interests, the fight between the two financial superpowers is increasingly focused on a single area: technology.

•The clash erupted in public on Tuesday after the U.S. government, citing national security concerns, called for a full investigation into a hostile bid to buy the American chip stalwart Qualcomm — a review that is often a death knell for a corporate deal.

•The proposed acquisition by the Singapore-based Broadcom would have been the largest deal in technology history. But a government panel said the takeover could weaken Qualcomm and give its Chinese rivals an advantage. “China would likely compete robustly to fill any void left by Qualcomm as a result of this hostile takeover,” a U.S. Treasury official wrote in a letter calling for a review of the deal.

•The fight over technology is redefining the rules of engagement in an era when national security and economic power are closely intertwined.

Ambitions under Xi

•China, under President Xi Jinping, has launched an ambitious plan to dominate mobile technology, supercomputers, artificial intelligence and other cutting-edge industries. Beijing wants to build its own technology champions and is encouraging companies to acquire the engineering, expertise and intellectual property from big rivals in the United States and elsewhere.

•The aggressive push has set off alarms in Washington.

•The secretive panel that is reviewing the Qualcomm deal, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, or CFIUS, has taken on a central role in the resistance to Chinese investment. The panel, which is led by the Treasury Department and made up of representatives from multiple agencies, has the authority to block foreign acquisitions of U.S. companies for national security reasons; it has effectively killed several acquisitions linked to Chinese buyers over the past year.

Stalling corporate deals

•Broadcom said it was cooperating with CFIUS, saying it was “making the combined company a global leader in critical 5G and other technologies”. Qualcomm, in an earlier statement, said the review was a “very serious matter”.

•In most cases, the panel weighs in after a deal is announced. With Qualcomm, CFIUS is taking a proactive role and investigating before an acquisition agreement has even been signed.

•CFIUS has stymied several deals in the past year.

•MoneyGram, the money transfer company, and Ant Financial, the Chinese electronics payment company, called off their merger in January, citing regulatory concerns of CFIUS. If the deal had gone through, Ant Financial would have had access to reams of financial data, which could have created security problems.

•Last year, the White House blocked a Chinese-backed investor from buying Lattice Semiconductor, which is a supplier to the U.S. government. China Venture Capital Fund Corp., which was part of the investment group, is owned by state-backed entities.

•Technology companies are stuck in the middle of the fight between the United States and China. While there are concerns about Chinese encroachment, the industry also recognises that such deals are the price for entry to the world’s second-largest economy.NY Times



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