The HINDU Notes – 04th May 2018 - VISION

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Friday, May 04, 2018

The HINDU Notes – 04th May 2018






📰 Into the brave new age of irrationality

The assault on rationality is part of a concerted political strategy

•Much has been written and said about the assault on liberal arts under way in India since the new political era dawned. But the real assault is on science and rationality. And it has not been difficult to mount this attack.

•For long, India has as a nation proudly claimed to be a society of belief. And Indians like to assert that faith is a ‘way of life’ here. Terms such as modernity, rational thinking and scientific analysis are often frowned upon, and misdiagnosed as disrespect to Indian culture.

Freshly minted spokesmodel

•In recent years, we have entered a new era. I call it the Era of Irrationality. The new Chief Minister of Tripura, Biplab Kumar Deb, is the freshly minted spokesmodel of this bold, new era.

•There appears to be a relay race among people in public positions, each one making an astonishingly ridiculous claim and then passing on the baton. Mr. Deb’s claim that the Internet existed in the times of the Mahabharata is the latest. But there have been several other persons before that: Ganesh was the first example of plastic surgery, Darwin’s theory of evolution is hokum because nobody has seen monkeys turning into humans, and that Stephen Hawking had said that Vedas have a theory superior to Einstein’s E = mc2.

•Such statements have made us the laughing stock of the global scientific community. But more importantly, they also undermine the significant scientific achievements we have made post-Independence.

•We cannot even dismiss these as random remarks by the fringe, the babas and the sadhus. These claims are often made by public officials (it’s another matter that the babas and sadhus are now occupying several public offices). The assault on rationality is a consequence of a concerted strategy of political forces. As rational thinking thins, the same political forces fatten.

•We Indians have never really adopted the scientific temper, irrespective of our education. It’s evident from our obsession with crackpot sciences such as astrology and palmistry in our daily lives. However, in the past four years, the belief in pseudo-sciences has gained a political fig leaf as have tall, unverifiable claims on science.

•The cultivation of scientific temper involves asking questions and demanding empirical evidence. It has no place for blind faith. The ruling political dispensation is uncomfortable with questioning Indians. But at the same time, it also wants to come across as a dispensation that champions a 21st century modern India. Therein lies a catch-22 situation.

•So, they have devised a devious strategy to invest in the culture of blind belief. They already have a willing constituency. Ludicrous statements like those mentioned above — made by leaders in positions of power with alarming frequency — go on to legitimise and boost the Era of Irrationality.

•An unscientific society makes the job of an incompetent ruler a lot easier. No questions are asked; not even basic ones. The ruler has to just make a claim and the believers will worship him. Rather than conforming, a truly rational community often questions disparity, exploitation, persecution on the basis of caste, religion or gender. It demands answers and accountability for such violations, which are often based on irrational whims. Hence rationality must be on top of the casualty list followed quickly by the minorities, Dalits, women, liberals. For the ‘Irrationality project’ to succeed, the ruler needs a willing suspension of disbelief on a mass scale.

Science v. technology

•The vigour with which the government is making an assault on the scientific temper only confirms that it is actually frightened of it. This is the reason why authoritarian regimes are often intolerant of those who champion the spirit of science, but encourage scientists who will launch satellites and develop nuclear weapons — even as they break coconuts, chant hymns and press “Enter” with their fingers laden with auspicious stones.

•These ‘techno-scientists’ are what I call ‘the DJs of the scientific community’. And they are often the establishment’s yes-men and yes-women.

•The founders of the Constitution were aware of this. Hence the words “scientific temper” and “the spirit of inquiry and reform” find place in the Constitution, along with “secular” (belatedly), “equality” and “rights”. To dismantle secularism, dilute equality and pushback rights, it is imperative to destroy a scientific temperament.

•The indoctrination against the scientific temper begins very early in our lives. It starts in our families and communities where young minds are aggressively discouraged from questioning authority and asking questions. An upper caste child for example may be forced to follow customs, which among others include practising and subscribing to the age-old caste system. The same methodology is used to impose fixed gender, sexual and religious identities. As a result, we are hardwired to be casteist, majoritarian and misogynist.

•The final step in the ‘Irrationality project’ is to inject with regularity, preposterous, over-the-top claims about the nation’s past. It effectively blurs vision of the present.

•The world is busy studying string theory, the god particle in a cyclotron, quantum mechanics. But we are busy expanding our chest size with claims of a fantastic yore.

📰 Targeting Tehran: on Netanyahu's revelations on Iran

Israel’s so-called revelations make no case to junk the Iran nuclear deal

•The timing of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim that Iran had a robust nuclear weapons programme is not lost on anyone. On Monday, Mr. Netanyahu shared thousands of documents related to Iran’s nuclear programme at a time when U.S. President Donald Trump is considering ripping up the Iran nuclear deal. Mr. Trump, who has never hidden his opposition to the deal signed by the Obama administration with Iran and five other countries, is expected to take a decision before May 12. The documents Mr. Netanyahu cited were stolen from Iran by Israeli spies, and suggest that Iran had a robust nuclear weapons programme before the multilateral deal was signed — while Iran had always maintained that its nuclear programme was for civilian purposes. Mr. Netanyahu argued that the documents pointed to an act of deceit on Iran’s part, a claim the U.S. immediately backed. But Israel’s opposition to the Iran deal is not new. The Obama administration had gone ahead with multilateral talks with Iran despite opposition from two of the U.S.’s strongest West Asian allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia. But with the new U.S. administration under Mr. Trump taking an increasingly hostile line towards Iran, Israel has also stepped up its attack on the nuclear deal. Mr. Netanyahu’s ‘revelations’ are clearly aimed at setting the stage for, and influencing, Mr. Trump’s big decision on the deal in the coming days.

•The problem with Mr. Netanyahu’s presentation is that it relates to a pre-nuclear deal Iran. Even if the documents are authentic, they suggest that Iran had a nuclear weapons programme. There is no indication that Iran has violated the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, the international agreement signed between Iran, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, and Germany. Even the Trump administration, which backs Israel’s claims, doesn’t say Iran is in violation of the nuclear deal. After Mr. Netanyahu’s press conference, the International Atomic Energy Agency too said it has no credible information to show that Iran has violated the agreement. So if Iran indeed had an active weapons programme as Israel claims, the nuclear deal has ended it. This only bolsters the argument in favour of the deal. In other words, the U.S. and Israel are yet to make a convincing argument on why the Iran deal should be scrapped. But if Mr. Trump does pull the U.S. out of the pact and reimposes sanctions on Iran, that would be a disincentive for Tehran to stay in compliance with the agreement. So, practically, if Mr. Trump decides to pull out of the Iran deal, it would start the unravelling of an agreement that nobody has violated. The U.S. should assess the agreement based on its merit and outcomes, not on narrow geopolitical or ideological calculations.

📰 Emerging irritant: on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor

The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is a thorn in India-Pakistan relations

•The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is China’s ambitious project for increasing connectivity and economic cooperation within Eurasia. Since its announcement in 2013, the BRI has been positively received by many countries covered within its ambit. However, notwithstanding the recent meetingbetween Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Wuhan, China, one issue associated with the BRI will likely be considered an irritant for China: India’s position on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

•Last May, New Delhi sent a clear message to Beijing that it doesn’t support CPEC. India registered its protest by boycotting the high-profile Belt and Road Forum organised by China. Its principal objection was that CPEC passed through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK). Earlier this month, the Ministry of External Affairs made its position clear on this issue when asked about a possibility of cooperation between India and China on the BRI. The Ministry’s statement read: “Our position on OBOR/BRI is clear and there is no change. The so-called ‘China-Pakistan Economic Corridor’ violates India’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. No country can accept a project that ignores its core concerns on sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

•India’s position will undoubtedly have a larger impact on China-India relations. PoK is considered a contested territory by the international community. Nevertheless, for India, PoK remains an emotional and sensitive issue. It is little wonder that China’s insistence on establishing the CPEC project through PoK is seen by India as a deliberate disregard of its territorial claims.

•At a broader level, if China invests heavily in the region, it risks becoming party to what has been a troubling bilateral dispute between nuclear-armed rivals. If CPEC gets operationalised and fortifies the emergence of a fully functional China-Pakistan axis, this would hamper India’s larger interests in the South Asian region and force a strategic rethink in South Block. The incentives for this would be even stronger if CPEC’s potential success renders PoK more industrially developed, thus granting Pakistan greater legitimacy over the region. Whether India has any road map to take the conversation on PoK forward is a different debate but no nation can be expected to wilfully forsake its territorial claims. Had India not registered its protest, that would have been perceived as a weakness, and would have been a setback for India’s emerging power status in the international system.

•CPEC is ultimately a thorn in India-Pakistan relations. The best way forward would be for India to come up with a concrete plan on PoK. Otherwise, its protests on CPEC may well be ignored by stakeholders in the project, with little consequence.

📰 Centre quotes SC order on Aadhaar

AG insists that earlier move for seeding of mobile SIMs was based on a Feb. 16, 2017, court directive

•The Centre insisted on Thursday that its earlier move for mandatory seeding of mobile phone SIMs with Aadhaar was based on the Supreme Court’s initiative.

•Recently, the Aadhaar Constitution Bench, led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra, had questioned the government’s line that its efforts to mandatorily link SIMs with Aadhaar was based on a February 6, 2017 order of the Supreme Court.

•In response, Attorney-General K.K. Venugopal read out the February 6 order of a Bench of then Chief Justice J.S. Khehar and Justice N.V. Ramana. This order was based on a PIL petition filed by Lok Niti Foundation, highlighting the need for a “definite mobile phone subscriber verification scheme, to ensure 100% verification of the subscriber.” The petitioner had argued that such a scheme was necessary to prevent the use of unverified mobile phone SIMs in domestic crime and terror acts.

•Mr. Venugopal said the February 6 order had the Bench “congratulating” Lok Niti Foundation for raising such a “commendable cause.”

Demographic data

•To buttress his point, Mr. Venugopal read out portions of the order which records the government’s response to Lok Niti Foundation. He said the order recorded that the government had launched the “Aadhaar based E-KYC for issuing mobile connections” on August 16, 2016 wherein the customer as well as Point of Sale (PoS) Agent would be authenticated from Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) based on their biometrics and their demographic data received from UIDAI.

•Mr. Venugopal said the government had also conveyed to the court that the Aadhaar-based e-KYC process would nullify the chances of delivery of SIMs to wrong persons and ensure “traceability” of the customer to a large extent.

•But Justice A.K. Sikri, on the Constitution Bench, responded by saying that the February 6 order only records the plea of Lok Niti Foundation and the government’s response to it. There was no positive order from the Supreme Court, directing the government to seed SIMs with Aadhaar.

•On this, Mr. Venugopal drew the court’s attention to the concluding paragraphs of the two-page order.

Existing subscribers

•Here, he pointed out that the court had described the Aadhaar e-KYC process as an “effective’ one for new mobile phone subscribers. It had also further expressed “hope and expectation” that a “similar verification” would be completed in the case of existing subscribers soon, possibly within a year.

•At this point, Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, on the Bench, asked why then did the government come out with a recent statement to telecom companies to not insist on Aadhaar from subscribers.

•Mr. Venugopal said this was done in response to the recent statements from the Constitution Bench, and the government had now decided to wait till the final judgment of the court on the validity of the Aadhaar scheme.

•The Attorney-General concluded his rejoinder arguments by dismissing allegations of mass state surveillance and “conspiracy” using Aadhaar data. He said it was preposterous to allege that a democratically-elected government would “collude” with Aadhaar officers to mount surveillance on the doings of other political parties in order to “prevent them from going into a coalition.”

📰 SC upholds MCI notification

Bid to prevent blocking of Post Graduate entrance medical seats

•The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the validity of a April 9 notification issued by the Medical Council of India (MCI) making changes in the method of admissions to the postgraduate medical courses to arrest the blocking of seats by certain candidates which was detrimental to the interest of meritorious students in the all India quota.

State quota

•A Bench of Justices S.A. Bobde and L. Nageswara Rao passed the order on a notification issued by the MCI in the Postgraduate Medical Education (Amendment) Regulations, 2018. Admission to postgraduate courses is on the basis of the merit of the candidates in the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET-PG) conducted every year. Fifty per cent seats are earmarked for all India quota and the remaining for the State quota.

•The court, in an eight-page order, observed that there is “material on record to suggest that devious methods were adopted by certain candidates to block the seats in the All India quota and resign thereafter from those seats which resulted in reversion of the all India quota seats to the State quota.”

Illegal practice

•“The Medical Counselling Committee identified about thousand candidates who were indulging in such illegal practice and proposes to take action against them after a thorough inquiry,” the order said.

•The court said there was no infringement in the rights of the petitioners, who had challenged MCI’s April 9 notification, in the background of the ongoing counselling for the postgraduate medical admissions after NEET.

•The court said “reduction of chances of admission does not entail in violation of any right and added that there was no reason for it to intervene as the intent of the MCI in issuing the notification was to end a devious practice.

•“The petitioners participated in the second round of counselling. No interference is warranted in respect of the all India quota.”

📰 Need time for Cauvery scheme: Centre to SC

•Tamil Nadu argued that though the Cauvery tribunal had ordered the release of 2.5 tmcft each for April and May, Karnataka had released only 1.1 tmcft in April.

•“Even though the States have no role to play in finalising the scheme, Karnataka should have released the water as per the order of the tribunal to prove its bona fides,” Chief Justice Misra told the Karnataka counsel.

•During the hearing, senior advocate Shekhar Naphade, for Tamil Nadu, lashed out at the Centre, accusing it of adopting a “brazen attitude” and “playing politics” to favour the BJP’s fortunes in the State, instead of fulfilling its duty.

•Chief Justice Misra said the Centre had a “responsibility to frame the scheme.”

•Mr. Naphade submitted that “they [the Centre] are worried about their electoral fate in Karnataka... The Centre does not want to frame the scheme before the elections on May 12... If you [the SC] allow this to happen, there will be nothing left of the rule of law and co-operative federalism.”

•“What do we tell the people of Tamil Nadu? That the Supreme Court passed its Cauvery judgment in February and we have still not been able to get water. Summer temperatures are rising... there is no drinking water... It is time for you [the SC] to call a spade a spade,” Mr. Naphade said, and urged the court to act.

•Tamil Nadu has filed a contempt petition against the Centre for delaying the framing of the scheme as per the top court’s February 16 judgment.

•Mr. Naphade reminded Mr. Venugopal that he had earlier made a statement in court that “everything was ready” with the scheme.

•“The AG made the statement... do we not believe him now? Do we not get water? Why this step-motherly treatment to us now? We cannot be at the mercy of the Central government,” Mr. Naphade argued.

•“Water allotment would be less in summer. The tribunal had fixed the quota, which we had only reduced by 4 TMC. The water released has to be proportionate to rainfall, irrigation, etc... That is why a scheme is needed,” Chief Justice Misra said.

CJ’s assurance

•The Chief Justice assured that Tamil Nadu would indeed get water. In a stern voice, he told the Karnataka counsel that the “State must release water.”

•But senior advocate Shyam Diwan, for Karnataka, said the State had already released water in excess to Tamil Nadu. “You have to urgently release water or face the consequences,” Chief Justice Misra told the State. The court directed Mr. Venugopal to respond on Tuesday about what steps the Centre had taken so far to frame the scheme.

•“They [the Centre] will dilly-dally... this is too serious an issue,” Mr. Naphade insisted. “Well, it is only one or two days before Tuesday... we will see,” CJI Misra replied.

📰 PM busy in Karnataka, need time for Cauvery plan: Centre

PM busy in Karnataka, need time for Cauvery plan: Centre
Have hearing a day after election in State, SC told

•The Centre on Thursday informed the Supreme Court about its inability to frame the Cauvery draft water-sharing scheme within the May 3 deadline given by the apex court, saying “Prime Minister and Ministers are travelling.”

•“Because of the Karnataka elections, the Prime Minister and Ministers are all in Karnataka. Have the hearing a day after the Karnataka elections... they are all travelling,” Attorney General K.K. Venugopal told a Bench led by Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra.

•On April 9, the SC directed the Centre to frame the draft Cauvery scheme by May 3 and prove its bona fide resolve to end the 200-year-old dispute between poll-bound Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. “But are you not supposed to frame the draft scheme... The scheme should have been finalised by now,” CJI Misra asked.

•“We are in a difficult position... we are only asking for 10 days more,” Mr. Venugopal and Additional Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said.

•The court turned to Karnataka and directed the State’s counsel to take instructions by Tuesday on whether it could release 4 tmcft to Tamil Nadu in May. Tamil Nadu argued that though the Cauvery tribunal had ordered the release of 2.5 tmcft each for April and May, Karnataka had released only 1.1 tmcft in April.

📰 A pattern of impunity: on the SC/ST Act

The problem with the SC/ST Act is the failure of the criminal justice system to recognise its own casteist biases

•For India’s Dalits and Adivasis, May 1 this year was a ‘May Day’ in more ways than one. It was May Day, the day to commemorate the labour movement (the vast majority of them do belong to the working classes), and also ‘mayday’ in the maritime sense, an occasion to broadcast their distress over a life-threatening emergency.

•Dalit and Adivasi rights organisations observed May 1 as ‘National Resistance Day’. The immediate trigger was the Supreme Court order of March 20 on the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989 (hereafter SC/ST Act). Protest meetings held across the country had three demands for the government: neutralise the Supreme Court order through an ordinance that would reinstate both the SC/ST Act and the SC/ST Amendment Act, 2015, in their original form; include both these laws in the Ninth Schedule to protect them from judicial review; and release all the Dalits arrested on April 2 when a ‘Bharat Bandh’ was observed to protest this Supreme Court order.

The Mahajan case

•A lot has already been written on why the Supreme Court order is prejudicial to the cause of justice for victims of caste atrocities. But the underlying case that triggered the controversial judgment hasn’t received enough attention. It might be instructive to briefly consider the facts of this case, Subhash Kashinath Mahajan v. the State of Maharashtra.

•The dispute arose in 2007, when Bhaskar Gaikwad, a storekeeper in a government college in Karad, Maharashtra, wrote to the State government highlighting alleged illegalities committed by Satish Bhise, the college principal. Mr. Gaikwad is from the Scheduled Caste (SC) community, Mr. Bhise is a non-SC person.

•In April 2008, Mr. Gaikwad stated in his annual confidential report (ACR) that he had brought to light certain irregularities in the procurement of materials for the college. When Mr. Gaikwad’s reporting officer, Kishor Burade (also a non-SC person), saw it, he allegedly entered false information in the ACR about Mr. Gaikwad’s performance as well as some casteist remarks about his character. Mr. Bhise, too, allegedly made mala fide comments against Mr. Gaikwad in the ACR.

•When Mr. Gaikwad became aware of these remarks in his ACR, he filed a first information report (FIR) against Mr. Bhise and Mr. Burade under the sections of the SC/ST Act that penalise a non-SC person for giving a public servant false information that could harm a SC person. Since the accused were Class I officers, the police applied for sanction to prosecute them.

•Subhash K. Mahajan, who was then the Director-in-charge, Technical Education, Maharashtra, wrote to the investigating officer denying sanction for prosecution, even though he did not have the authority to make that call.

•Following Mr. Mahajan’s refusal to grant sanction for prosecution, the police in 2011 filed a C-Summary report on the case, which means that the case is “neither true nor false”. Mr. Gaikwad claims that he was not informed of this fact by either the police or the courts for more than four years, even though they were required by law to do so.

•When he finally found out about the C-summary report in early 2016, he filed another FIR, this time against Mr. Mahajan, charging him with knowingly shielding persons accused of a crime against an SC person. This too is an offence that attracts the provisions of the SC/ST Act.

•In August 2016, the defendant (Subhash Mahajan) approached the Bombay High Court asking for the FIR to be quashed on the grounds that the charges against him were false and frivolous. The High Court not only refused to quash the case but also ruled that “there are sufficient safeguards in the Act itself which guarantee protection against frivolous and false prosecution”.

•The defendant then filed an appeal against this decision in the Supreme Court.The apex court, instead of concerning itself solely with the merits of Mr. Mahajan’s appeal, dramatically expanded the ambit of the case, noting, “The question which has arisen in the course of consideration of this matter is whether any unilateral allegation of mala fide can be ground to prosecute officers who dealt with the matter in official capacity and if such allegation is falsely made what is protection available against such abuse.”

•In the name of protecting innocent non-SC persons from being victimised by false complaints under the SC/ST Act, it laid down three guidelines that nullify key provisions of this law: it removed the bar on grant of anticipatory bail; even though the Mahajan case only concerns public servants, it ruled that where the accused is a non-public servant, the police may make an arrest only after approval by a senior superintendent of police; and it held that before registering an FIR, the police may conduct a preliminary inquiry to ascertain the veracity of the complaint.

Setback for SC/STs





•Taken together, the three changes neatly reverse the original mandate of the SC/ST Act: instead of immediately registering an FIR and investigating the accused, the police would now immediately doubt the Dalit and investigate her complaint for veracity, and what’s more, they are required to do so by law.

•One might assume that special guidelines to curb false allegations would be sparked by a case where false allegations have been proven. But that is not quite the case here. The apex court’s judgment does not engage exhaustively with the allegations made by the original complainant, Mr. Gaikwad, against the defendants, Mr. Bhise, Mr. Burade and Mr. Mahajan.

•In fact, Mr. Gaikwad has presented three fresh applications to the Supreme Court: one to prosecute Mr. Mahajan “for filing a forged English translation of the original Marathi FIR”; one seeking recall of the March 20 order on several grounds, “including fraud on the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India by not filing the full text of the FIR”; and one “seeking calling of original records from the Hon’ble Bombay High Court”. These applications were tagged and listed along with the Central government’s review petition.

•By far the most disturbing aspect of the court’s order is the idea that poor conviction rates and high acquittal rates suggest a high number of false cases. Can we apply this logic, say, to the acquittals of all the accused in the Kilvenmani massacre (Tamil Nadu, 1968, 44 Dalits killed), Tsunduru massacre (Andhra Pradesh, 1991, eight Dalits killed), Bathani Tola massacre (Bihar, 1996, 21 Dalits killed), Laxmanpur-Bathe massacre (Bihar, 1997, 58 Dalits killed), Shankarbigha massacre (Bihar, 1999, 23 Dalits killed), to mention just a few of the most infamous instances of mass acquittals? Do these acquittals mean that the cases against the accused were false? Or do they suggest a pattern of bona fide impunity for crimes against the Scheduled Castes?

•The SC/ST Act and the SC/ST Amendment Act hold enormous significance for Dalits not because they have been effective in protecting them from caste injustice; not at all. If they are cherished despite their poor conviction rates and shoddy implementation, it is because their very existence is a testament to Dalit agency in a heavily casteist society, and a powerful affirmation of the community’s faith in the Indian Constitution.

•The problem with this law is not its supposed misuse but the inability of India’s criminal justice system to recognise its own casteist biases. It is, after all, a matter of common sense that in a society seeped in caste, no institution can claim immunity from casteist prejudices or mindset. Sadly, the judiciary has been reluctant to acknowledge the social matrix of jurisprudence in India, which is caste.

📰 AIIB not a threat, can cooperate: ADB president

Open to collaborate on ‘belt and road’ initiative; trade spat yet to impact investment sentiment: Nakao

•The rise of China-led The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) is not seen as a threat to Asian Development Bank (ADB) and in fact, both can cooperate to finance the large infrastructure funding needs, Takehiko Nakao, president of the ADB, said on Thursday.

•Addressing the media ahead of the multilateral funding agency’s annual meeting, Mr. Nakao said, “AIIB, it’s not the kind of threat to us. We can cooperate with AIIB because we need larger investment in Asia and we can collaborate.”

China’s clout

•In 2016, China unveiled the international development bank as Beijing sought to change the unwritten rule of the financing game. With several large countries agreeing to join the bank, despite the United States’ reservation, it reflected China’s growing clout.

•“We have a large system, including staff and resources like equity and so on. We can collaborate with AIIB very effectively. ADB has 3,100 staff as compared to AIIB’s 100 something,” Mr. Nakao said.

Long-term strategy

•ADB has initiated a long-term ‘Strategy 2030’ to address the changing dynamics — the way Asian countries need finances to deal with poverty.

•When asked, Mr. Nakao clarified that AIIB was not a motivation for initiating the ‘Strategy 2030’.

•“We are forming the strategy because of so many new developments in Asia. We have COP-21, sustainable development goals, there is observation that we might have more severe kind of phenomenon due to climate change issues and must address those. So there are many reasons to review our strategy.”

•The ADB president also said that the agency was looking at options on how to fund the ‘one-belt-one road’ initiative, which would connect China with the rest of Eurasia, and was open to collaborate with AIIB.

Regional cooperation

•“On the belt and road initiative (BRI), we have an MoU with the Chinese authorities about things to do together. We have been promoting these ideas since 1990. ADB started this idea of regional cooperation and we are happy to cooperate with BRI when there are appropriate projects because good connectivity is important,” Mr. Nakao said.

•With regard to the apprehension of a trade war between the United States and China, Mr. Nakao said while that was an area of concern, the recent tensions were yet to have any impact on investment sentiments.

•“Of course, we are concerned about the ongoing disputes among some countries and if trade is interrupted it could cause damage to Asian and other countries. At this point, trade has picked up very strongly since 2017 because of higher prices of resources and stimulated by stronger growth in countries, including the U.S.,” he said.

•“Trade dispute and its negative impact if escalated, is a concern, but at this moment it does not have major impact on sentiment of investor and market player. But if it continues and is escalated, it might have an impact,” Mr. Nakao added.

📰 Despite CA’s closure, U.K. to continue investigation

The data analytics firm is to begin insolvency proceedings

•The closure of Cambridge Analytica (CA) and the associated firm SCL Elections will not have any impact on two U.K. investigations into the data analytics company.

•Britain’s Information Commissioner’s Office, which is investigating SCL Group and CA as part of a wider probe into the use of personal data and analytics in political campaigns and beyond, said it would continue its civil and criminal investigations and pursue individuals and directors “as appropriate and necessary”. It will also monitor successor companies to “ensure the public is safeguarded”.

•“We will be examining closely the details of the announcements of the winding down of Cambridge Analytica and the status of its parent company,” it said in a statement.

•A separate investigation by the House of Commons committee on digital, culture, media and sport into fake news will also continue to examine issues relating to the organisation.

•“Cambridge Analytica and SCL group cannot be allowed to delete their data history by closing. The investigations into their work are vital,” said the committee’s chair Damian Collins.

•Earlier this week, the committee sent a strongly-worded letter to Facebook, with 40 questions that had not yet been answered in its testimony, and a deadline of May 11 for Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg to agree to give evidence directly to the panel before May 24, failing which a formal summons could be issued to him.

Insolvency proceedings

•On Wednesday night, CA said it and SCL Elections would be commencing insolvency proceedings after “numerous and unfounded” accusations, vilification, and “siege of media coverage” had “driven away virtually all of the company’s customers and suppliers”.

•Over the past months, CA and its associated organisations have been embroiled in allegations that the Facebook profiles of millions of Americans had been wrongly harvested and used by the company, while a separate undercover investigation by Britain’s Channel 4 News pointed to some of the unsavoury tactics that the company touted as some of the means that it used to help political campaigns achieve their goals.

•Questions have also been raised around the role the company played in Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and campaigns for Britain to leave the EU, as well as in India and beyond. Documents made public by whistleblower Christopher Wylie highlighted the “extensive” work conducted by SCL Elections in India, helping parties target audiences based on factors such as caste.

•“Cambridge Analytica specialises in disinformation! We need to make sure their shutdown is not just some rebranding or a way to hide from investigations. The SAME PEOPLE set up ANOTHER COMPANY and yesterday issued new company resolutions!,” tweeted Mr. Wylie, pointing to Emerdata, a company set up in August 2017.

•According to Emerdata’s Companies House record in the U.K., its business involves “data processing, hosting and related activities”, while Alexander Nix, the suspended CEO of CA, was appointed as a director in February, only for this to be terminated in April.

📰 Poor response in Alipore zoo to animal adoption scheme

Most organisations and individuals have not renewed contract with the zoo

•Almost four years after the West Bengal government introduced a scheme to adopt animals in the Alipore Zoological Garden, the initiative seems to have lost steam with fewer individuals and companies approaching the authorities for adoption.

•The animal adoption scheme was announced in 2013 and in 2015-16 the revenue from the initiative increased up to Rs. 31.65 lakh. But in 2017-18, the money from the scheme dropped to Rs. 11.75 lakh.

•“The response is not good. The adoption involves monetary transactions and there are not many renewals,” Alipore Zoo director Asis Kumar Samanta told The Hindu.

•A closer look at the adoption of animals at the zoological garden indicates that almost Rs. 11 lakh came from a single source, a non-resident Indian. S.U. Rahaman, whose address in the zoo records was mentioned as Sutton, London, had adopted three tigers, two lions and one leopard.

Incentives galore

•Most of the organisations and individuals who had adopted the animals after 2014 had not renewed their contract with the zoo. Besides incentives like celebrating the birthday of the adopted animal inside the zoo, the scheme provides opportunity to use the animal's photograph for publication in newspapers, magazines, in the letter head and website of individual or the institution.

•Adoption cost of tigers and lions was highest at Rs. 2 lakh per annum. Birds or porcupines could be adopted at Rs. 10,000 for a year. V.K. Yadav, member secretary, West Bengal Zoo Authority, said they would write to a prominent chamber of commerce in the city to adopt the animals.

📰 New snake found in Western Ghats

Bhupathy’s shieldtail has been observed only in the Anaikatty Hills of Tamil Nadu

•Just 40 cm long and iridescent brown, Bhupathy’s shieldtail is the latest addition to the snake fauna of the Western Ghats.

•The snake, currently observed only in the forests of the Anaikatty hills in Tamil Nadu’s Coimbatore district, has been named Uropeltis bhupathyi , after the late herpetologist S. Bhupathy, for his contributions to the field.

•The reptile belongs to a family of snakes found only in peninsular India and Sri Lanka. They are non-venomous, burrowing and mostly earthworm-eating, and are called shieldtails after the large, flat tips of their tails, which make them appear almost sliced off.

•Researchers had seen this snake earlier during surveys, but it was wrongly identified as another more commonly-seen shieldtail, says researcher Jins V.J., who discovered the snake.

•Mr. Jins, who was formerly with the Salim Ali Centre for Ornithology and Natural History, Coimbatore, had collected specimens of the snake, and in the course of examining its morphology, he counted the minute body scales on its ventral or belly side — which is usually how such snakes are identified — and compared them to other similar-looking shieldtails across India. “The new species had more than 200 scales,” he said. “This was its most characteristic distinguishing feature.”

•During a discussion with shieldtail taxonomy experts at London’s Museum of Natural History in 2016, Mr. Jins realised he could be looking at a new species. He and his colleagues then compared their specimens with those in museums and collections across both Europe and India, and analysed the new shieldtail’s DNA, which confirmed that it was a hitherto unknown species.

•A study announcing the discovery was published in Zootaxa . The discovery takes the number of known species of shieldtails in India to 41. The country is home to more than 300 snake species. Varad Giri, a herpetologist who has a snake species named after him, says, “The advent of molecular phylogenetics [DNA-based studies] and dedicated field surveys have played a huge role in these discoveries.”




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