The HINDU Notes – 18th September 2018 - VISION

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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The HINDU Notes – 18th September 2018

📰 2+2 is less than the sum of its parts?

India risks going down the ‘slippery slope’ of becoming a U.S. acolyte in conflicts not of its choosing

•The much heralded 2+2 Dialogue between the U.S. and India finally fructified on September 6. The 2+2 format, involving the Defence and Foreign Ministers of the two countries, unconventional though it may be from an Indian standpoint, is a familiar tactic employed by the U.S., intended to align the military, strategic and diplomatic policies of the involved countries. It is often intended to signify a ‘special relationship’ between the U.S. and the concerned nation, even as it seeks to underscore the U.S. dictated ‘rules-based global order’.

•In the past, India was chary of endorsing the 2+2 formula, considering it alien to traditional diplomatic and strategic intercourse between nations. However, the U.S. has been persistent, and exploiting the current state of ‘special relations’ between the U.S. and India, it succeeded in overcoming the inhibitions of India’s political, diplomatic and strategic community. It went out of its way to assuage many of India’s concerns in the run-up to the talks and there was, hence, a great deal of expectation about possible outcomes.

Lop-sided outcome

•Some forward movement has taken place, but it would seem that the U.S. has been the main beneficiary. With this Dialogue, the U.S. also seems to have succeeded in co-opting India into the U.S. strategic framework aimed at the containment of China. The moot question for India is whether in the 21st century it wishes to play such a role, notwithstanding the obvious advantages stemming from access to state-of-the-art U.S. defence and security technologies.

•The principal takeaway from the 2+2 Dialogue was the signing of the Communications, Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) that is expected to facilitate India’s access to advanced U.S. defence systems, and “enable India to optimally utilise existing U.S. origin platforms”. It is also expected to help the armed forces of both countries to enhance interoperability.

•COMCASA is part of four foundational agreements the U.S. believes are critical to establish a foolproof security relationship. It has for years persisted in its efforts to get India to sign the four agreements. So far, it has succeeded in getting India to accede to three. The General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) was signed in 2002. The Logistic Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) was signed in 2016. COMCASA has now been finalised, and the deal has been sweetened by the U.S. offering to transfer specialised equipment for encrypted communications for U.S. origin platforms like C-17, C-130 and P-8I aircraft.

COMCASA tipping point

•Far more than the other two foundational agreements, COMCASA entails greater integration with the U.S. military. The implications of this can be far-reaching. Having been earlier accorded the status of a major defence partner, and with COMCASA now affording access to advanced defence systems and U.S. origin platforms — that involve obligations to share operational intelligence in real time — India risks going down the ‘slippery slope’ of becoming a U.S. acolyte in conflicts not of its choosing.

•Among the more important advanced defence systems and platforms that India hopes to secure are: state-of-the-art items such as the Weaponised Sea Guardian (a high altitude long endurance Drone), the Armed Predator-B, and cutting edge military and encrypted communication technologies. These can be expected to tie India firmly into the U.S.-driven military-security-intelligence grid.

•As part of the exercise to integrate India with its objectives, the U.S. once again reiterated the importance and significance of India as a ‘strategic partner and a major and independent stakeholder in world affairs’. This is further sweetened by implicit references to the role of Pakistan as an incubator of terrorism. There is also a mention of further expansion of bilateral India-U.S. counter-terrorism cooperation. A new offer on display is of facilitating closer relations between the U.S.’s Defence Innovation Unit and India’s Defence Innovation Organisation, intended to progress joint projects for co-production and co-development under the aegis of the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative.

•It is not clear at this time whether all this would earn India a reprieve from U.S. sanctions directed at countries trading with Russia and Iran. India is interpreting U.S. affirmations that it would not be sanctioned for its ‘legacy platforms’, to mean that the purchase of the S-400 Missile Defence Systems from Russia would not be affected. New purchases would, however, come under the purview of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). Vis-à-vis Iran, there are even less signs of a ‘give’ in the U.S. stance. Meanwhile, it is certain that India will come under further pressure from the U.S. to sign the fourth foundational agreement — Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement for Geo-Spatial Cooperation (BECA).

•What benefit does India derive from this 2+2 exercise? By its offer of a string of state-of-the-art defence items under ‘controlled conditions’, the U.S. is seeking to reinforce its claims to becoming the principal defence supplier to India, and in the process displace Russia from this perch. This is hardly an unmixed blessing. Russia has been steadfast in its defence commitments to India, and is not likely to take kindly to its displacement as India’s No.1 defence supplier. Any counter moves by Russia, such as seeking out Pakistan as an outlet for its defence items, will not be to India’s benefit.

•Our tilt towards the U.S. is also taking place at a time when the world sees the U.S. as a ‘declining power’. This is not 1991, when the Soviet Union had collapsed, China was not a dominant economic power, the U.S. had just demonstrated its unassailable military strength in Iraq, etc. Exhausted by a succession of past interventions, the U.S. is currently seen, in Asia at least, as largely in retreat.

•On the other hand, the world today confronts a post-Cold War situation. This features China as the second biggest world power and possibly among the biggest military powers. Considerable parts of Asia are already tilting in its favour. There is also the phenomenon of the re-emergence of Russia. At the same time, everything points to a weakened Europe.

•The U.S. image in Asia further stands tarnished thanks to some of its ‘strategic retreats’ in the recent period, viz., the failure of the ‘pivot to Asia’ and U.S. President Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ policy. The U.S. threat to use force to impose its diktats has again lost much of its meaning due to its inability to rein in China’s aggressive postures in the East and South China Seas. It has also been unable to effectively contain China’s ambitions to emerge as a key naval entity in the Indo-Pacific region. At this time, for India to be tagged with the label of an U.S. acolyte is hardly the best, or the next best, option.

Strategic integrity

•India has struggled for long to maintain its strategic integrity, apart from its strategic autonomy and independence. There were several occasions in the past for it to be strategically aligned with the U.S., but India was not willing to accept the terms of such alignment. China is a matter of concern, but not an imminent threat as far as India is concerned. The entire 2+2 Dialogue, on the other hand, seemed to centre on the threat posed by China and the need to contain Chinese aggression through force, or display of force, under a U.S. umbrella. Pakistan is the more immediate threat for India, and not solely on account of incubating terrorism. We have real concerns about Pakistan’s emergence as a nuclear threat, engaged in increasing the numbers of its nuclear warheads, developing several new delivery systems, creating new plutonium production and uranium enrichment facilities, etc. Pakistan’s threat to build new short-range nuclear capable weapon systems is again a real danger. None of this seems to fall within U.S. purview at present.

•U.S. blandishments should not, hence, blind us to current realities. There has to be a limit to what we seek from other nations in terms of arms. In any case, there can never be any compromise with our strategic autonomy or the strategic direction that we have chosen to follow all these years.

📰 Himalayan divide: on the drift in India-Nepal ties

India must fix its lines of communication with Nepal and arrest the drift in ties

•Despite several attempts at a reset, ties between India and Nepal continue to be a cause for concern. The disconnect between the two governments was most visible at the seven-nation Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation military exercises that concluded on Sunday. After confirming its participation in the exercises in June, the Nepalese Army was made to withdraw its contingent due to a “political decision”; it sent only an observer mission at the last hour. Officials in Prime Minister K.P. Oli’s office said that they were upset with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “unilateral” announcement of the multilateral exercises during the BIMSTEC summit on August 30-31, without having formally proposed it to the hosts. India’s explanation that it had broached the issue with BIMSTEC members directly did not cut much ice with Kathmandu; even the contingent from Thailand did not join the counter-terror exercises because of lack of adequate notice. Nepal’s decision to join China for a 12-day Mt Everest Friendship Exercise in Sichuan province, also focussed on anti-terrorism drills, drives the wedge in further. New Delhi and Kathmandu must put an end to the unseemly controversy by renewing diplomatic efforts over the issue. India and Nepal don’t just share an open border; they have shared the deepest military links, with both countries traditionally awarding each other’s Army chiefs the honorary rank of General. Such unique ties must not be undermined due to lack of communication.

•The larger geopolitical context of the discord over the military exercises must not be ignored. In his current term as Nepal’s Prime Minister, since February, Mr. Oli has said he will not be guided by India on several matters. Despite New Delhi signalling its discomfiture with the volume of Chinese investment in hydropower and infrastructure and transport projects, Nepal went ahead recently and finalised an ambitious connectivity proposal that will eventually link Kathmandu to Shigatse by rail; this will give Nepali goods access to Chinese sea-ports at Tianjin, Shenzhen, Lianyungang and Zhanjiang, and land ports in Lanzhou, Lhasa and Shigatse. Much of Mr. Oli’s rancour draws from the past. India is still blamed for the 2015 economic blockade against Nepal. It is also held responsible for attempts to destabilise Mr. Oli’s previous tenure as Prime Minister during 2015-2016. New Delhi cannot turn a blind eye to the rebuffs, and must address them. At such a time, the Army chief, General Bipin Rawat’s statement on BIMSTEC, that “geography” will ensure that countries like Bhutan and Nepal “cannot delink themselves” from India, could have been avoided; such comments unnerve India’s smaller neighbours and are misleading. Modern technology and connectivity projects could well take away geography’s role as a guarantor of good relations.

📰 The progressive way

Enacting just laws is more desirable than tinkering with personal laws for the sake of ‘uniformity’

•In a consultation paper released recently, the Law Commission of India has boldly said that a uniform civil code (UCC) is neither feasible nor necessary at this stage.

•The response must come as a shock to those in support of a “one nation, one law” tagline. The divide between the socialists and liberals is clearly visible. ‘Legal pluralism’ and ‘radical libertarianism’ are well-recognised scholarly traditions. There is a consensus that the state is not the only source of law. History has many instances of pluralistic legal systems where multiple sources of law existed.

•Therefore, the Law Commission has rightly recognised the plurality of diverse personal laws and proposed internal reforms in personal laws to make them compatible with the constitutional provisions of equality and non-discrimination.

•One hopes that religious communities in general and Muslims in particular will now as a first step initiate meaningful dialogue on internal reforms in personal laws.

Some pronouncements

•The Supreme Court has been advocating the enactment of a UCC, perhaps without fully appreciating the ground realities. For instance, Justice Vikramajit Sen in ABC v. State (2015) observed: “Our Directive Principles envision the existence of a uniform civil code, but this remains an unaddressed constitutional expectation.” Here, the court was not dealing with some religious or personal law but with a statutory provision of the Guardians and Wards Act, 1890. Thus the reference to a UCC was unwarranted. In Sarla Mudgal (2015), the Supreme Court made observations that those who stayed back after Partition knew that India believes in one nation and therefore no community can claim separate religious laws. Loyalty to the nation and uniformity in laws are not related to each other.

•Even in the Constituent Assembly, there was division on the issue of putting a UCC in the fundamental rights chapter. The sub-committee on this was so sharply divided that the matter was eventually settled by vote. It finally held that the provision was outside the scope of fundamental rights and thus non-justiciable. We need to appreciate the distinction between justiciable and non-justiciable rights. B.R. Ambedkar explicitly said in the Assembly, “No government can use its provisions in a way that would force the Muslims to revolt. If a government acts thus [imposing a common civil code], such a government would be insane in my opinion.”

Preserving legal diversity

•We need to appreciate that in Article 44, the framers of the Constitution have used the term ‘uniform’ and not ‘common’ because ‘common’ means one and same in all circumstances whatsoever and ‘uniform’ means ‘same in similar conditions’. It is an erroneous perception that we have different personal laws because of religious diversity. As a matter of fact, the law differs from region to region. It seems the framers of the Constitution did not intend total uniformity in the sense of one law for the whole country because ‘personal laws’ were included in the Concurrent List, with power to legislate being given to Parliament and State Assemblies. Preservation of legal diversity seems to be the reason of inclusion of Personal Law in the Concurrent list. The Law Commission has given due weightage to this diversity.

•It is a myth that we have uniform criminal laws. States have made amendments to the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860, and the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973. For example, Punjab recently introduced Section 295AA to the IPC — life term in all sacrilege cases.

•Another myth is that Hindus are governed by one homogenous law after the enactment of the Hindu Code Bill. It is also true of Muslims and Christians. The Constitution itself protects the local customs of Nagaland. It is repeatedly mentioned that Goa already has a uniform code. But Hindus there are still governed by the Portuguese Family and Succession Laws. The reformed Hindu Law of 1955-56 is still not applicable to them. In the case of Muslims, the Shariat Act 1937 has not been extended to Goa. Thus they are governed by Portuguese and Shastric Hindu law, and not by Muslim personal law. The Special Marriage Act (a progressive civil code) has not been extended to Goa. Even in Jammu and Kashmir, local Hindu law statutes do differ with the Central enactments. The Shariat Act is also not applicable and Muslims continue to be governed by customary law which is at variance with the Muslim personal law in the rest of the country.

Forgotten issues

•It is distressing that no one talks about the non-implementation of other Directive Principles which are far more important than the enactment of a uniform code. What about the right to work, living wages, distribution of community resources to sub-serve the common good, avoidance of concentration of wealth in few hands and the protection of monuments?

•Amendments to a community’s personal law with a view to bringing about changes for its betterment is one thing; but to tinker with the enactment with the sole purpose of introducing ‘uniformity’ is quite another. Just laws are far more important than uniform law. Piecemeal reforms should be the way forward.

📰 No land’s people

Cooperation among governments and tolerance among citizens will help us find a solution to the refugee crisis

•A large number of people in the world today are stateless and are thus deprived of the rights that the majority enjoy. This problem is particularly significant in the Indian context now — not only because of the Rohingya crisis that is unfolding in the subcontinent, but also because of the updating of the National Register of Citizens (NRC). It is worrying that over 40 lakh people in Assam have been left out of the draft NRC, and that many of them have reportedly not been given reasons for their omission. Even within families, some members have been recognised as citizens, while others have to refile their claim for citizenship. If rejected again, these people stand the risk of losing citizenship and even being deported. But where will they go?

•The NRC situation sounds eerily similar to how the Rohingya Muslims were ousted from Myanmar. And the attitude of various governments towards stateless people is similar. Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has drawn a lot of criticism from the international community for the treatment of the Rohingya, so much so that she has been stripped of many prestigious international titles. India has argued that taking in the Rohingya would be a national security concern as well as a drain on its resources. These concerns trump the basic concern for the lives of these people.

Election promises

•This pattern is repeated across the world. It is ironic that the U.S. has condemned the attacks on the Rohingya given its own “zero-tolerance” policy towards illegal immigrants. Recent reports of the U.S. separating children from their families and keeping them in enclosed quarters were reminiscent of the infamous political leadership of Germany in the 1930s and ’40s, and provoked former U.S. President Jimmy Carter to say that the U.S. can no longer be considered a champion of human rights. U.S. President Donald Trump promised during his campaign to get tough on illegal immigration, which helped him ride to Republican nomination and subsequently to the White House.

•Similarly, the BJP promised during its campaign before the Assam Assembly elections to scrutinise citizenship in the State. This helped the party clinch the State. These examples seem to suggest that votes are being cast, among other things, on the promise of delivering results akin to ethnic cleansing.

•In Germany, the influx of refugees nearly cost Chancellor Angela Merkel her office; in Britain, the refugee question was the key deciding factor in the Brexit referendum. The question is, even if the political leadership is willing to accept immigrants, would the general populace today accept them or has xenophobia swept over compassion? Disturbing images of families and even children being washed ashore seem to do little to affect the ethnocentrism of today.

No international cooperation

•There seems to be no political consensus or international cooperation on refugee rehabilitation. This is a grave concern, because the fate of these people does not hang as an albatross around any country’s neck. The inability to take a stand will only worsen the situation, as has been the case in Palestine, where over a million people have been living in camps as refugees since the 1940s. Their descendants are also treated as refugees. These refugees have been without an identity for seven decades now, which shows how prolonged a migrant’s ordeal can be when no nation is willing to treat the problem as its own.

•Receiving little media attention is the fact that Africa is taking in a disproportionate number of refugees — currently 80% of the world’s refugee population, according to the UN. Developing countries have fewer resources, which is why it is heartening that countries like Ethiopia choose to value the lives of refugees over nationality, ethnicity and polity considerations.

•The importance of protecting borders and containing threats to national security cannot be undermined. But the key factors that have led to the refugee crisis in some places seem to be the need to appease voters, and growing jingoism. The trends indicate that this is only set to rise, if it is not checked. Hegemonic countries cannot adopt isolationism in dealing with a situation that involves such a significant number of the world’s inhabitants. Cooperation among governments and tolerance among citizens will help us find a solution to this conflict.

📰 Govt proposes to merge Dena Bank, Vijaya Bank and Bank of Baroda

Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the merger would make the banks stronger and sustainable as well as increase their lending ability.

•The Centre on Monday proposed the amalgamation of state-owned Bank of Baroda, Dena Bank and Vijaya Bank to create India’s third largest bank as parts of reforms in the public sector banking segment.

•The decision was taken at the meeting of a ministerial panel headed by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley which oversees merger proposals of state-owned banks. The other members of the panel include Railways Minister Piyush Goyal and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.

•“This major decision was taken by Alternative Mechanism today to amalgamate Bank of Baroda, Dena Bank and Vijaya Bank. While making this suggestion, we have borne in mind that we don’t want a merger of what are relatively weak banks,” Mr Jaitley said, adding, “You can have two well performing banks absorbing a weak one in the amalgamation process and hopefully creating a mega bank which will be sustainable, whose lending ability which will be far higher.”

•This follows the merger of the five associate banks of State Bank of India with itself. The government has also moved to offload its majority stake in IDBI Bank to Life Insurance Corporation of India.

•Asked about the choice of banks, Mr Jaitley said this is the government’s assessment because one of the banks [Dena Bank] has been placed under the prompt corrective action framework. “We want to save all the banks. When you make a merger you want to make sure that the merged entity is a stronger entity. Therefore our capacity to subsume that weaker bank into the merged entity, which will be a stronger bank, is the principal factor that weighs with the government. Of course, we see the all India expanse and so on…”

•He added that the government will now await the response of the banks on the proposal.

•“The Alternative Mechanism took the view that aspirations of the fastest growing economy have to be supported by stronger and globally competitive banks with increased choices to the stakeholders. Accordingly, it was decided to consolidate the three banks,” Rajiv Kumar, Secretary, Department of Financial Services said.

•Enlisting the benefits, Mr Kumar added that the proposal entails that the amalgamated entity will be the third largest in India. “It would be a strong competitive bank with economies of scale. The entity would also be positioned for substantial rise in customer base, market reach and operational efficiency.”

•The Secretary added that the employee interests will be protected and brand equity will be preserved. “Capital support, if any, to make it a big and global bank will be ensured,” he added.

•As a backgrounder to the decision, Mr Jaitley added that the PSBs were too many in number and saw “peak lending” of Rs 55 lakh crore between the years 2008 to 2014. Before, 2008, the total amount of bank lending stood at Rs 18 lakh crore, he said.

•“The nature of the lending was as if there is no tomorrow. The banks have to be emptied before 2014. And that took its toll on the economy. This was accompanied by another step which was really to sweep the NPAs below the carpet. So that the real picture does not come out. NPAs worth 8.5 lakh crore were shown to be 2 lakh crore,” the minister alleged.

•Asked about the increasing fuel prices coupled with declining value of rupee against the dollar, Mr Jaitley said, “These are impacts of a very significant global phenomenon that are going on. You have atleast three, if not more, globally coming on the nature of things happening.”

•“One is the squeeze which has been put on oil production upsetting the demand supply ration which is increasing the crude oil prices. The second is the trade war and we don’t know when we are going to see the end of it. It impacts a major currency in our region --- china, and that of course creates an upheaval in this region. The third is the internal economic decision of the US, which are leading to further strengthening of dollar,” he added.

📰 ‘Machines will rule workplace by 2025’

‘Machines will rule workplace by 2025’
More than 54% of India’s employees in 12 sectors need reskilling by 2022, says WEF

•In less than seven years, by 2025, machines are projected to overtake humans in workplace task hours in 12 key industry sectors, according to a ‘Future of Jobs’ report by the World Economic Forum (WEF).

•Globally, almost half of all companies expect automation to cut their full-time workforce in the next four years; however, new jobs will still lead to a net gain in employment opportunities if sufficient reskilling is done. In India, 54% of employees in these sectors will need reskilling by 2022, the WEF said in the report released on Monday.

‘Significant shift’

•“Workforce transformations are no longer an aspect of the distant future,” WEF founder and executive chairman Klaus Schwab, said in a preface to the report. Instead, technological changes such as high-speed mobile Internet and cloud technology, artificial intelligence, robots and automation are expected to drive a “significant shift on the frontier between humans and machines when it comes to existing work tasks between 2018 and 2022.”

•In 2018, humans performed an average of 71% of total task hours across the 12 industries spanning manufacturing, services and high tech. By 2025, that will drop to just 48%, according to the WEF. Machines will perform the remaining 52%.

•The companies surveyed represent more than 15 million workers in 20 developed and emerging countries.

•However, there are grounds for cautious optimism. “One set of estimates indicates that 75 million jobs may be displaced by a shift in the division of labour between humans and machines, while 133 million new roles may emerge that are more adapted to the new division of labour between humans, machines and algorithms,” the authors of the report wrote, even while warning that if managed poorly, these transformations posed the risk of widening skill gaps, heightening inequality and raising polarisation.

•The WEF, therefore, identified the reskilling and upskilling of employees as an urgent imperative.

•“We hope this report is a call to action,” Mr. Schwab added in his preface.

•Broadly, in line with global trends, 54% of Indian workers in these industries would need reskilling by 2022. Of this, while 35% would need at least six months worth of reskilling, 10% would need more than a year of training in order to meet the demands of the new economy, the WEF said in the report.

📰 Maharashtra to set up cyber varsity

It will train 3,000 professionals to fight online space attacks, internet crimes

•The Maharashtra Government has taken the first step towards setting up a varsity dedicated to mitigating cyber threats. It has set aside ₹80 crore for the first round of its funding and the proposal for the project will be tabled in the State cabinet’s consideration in the first week of October, sources said.

•The new Cyber University will train 3,000 professionals to fight online space cyber attacks, internet crimes, and conduct cyber forensics. It will also impart training in 15 other Internet of Things (IoT) areas such as Data Analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

•A team of senior government officials recently visited the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL), which monitors cyber attacks in real time, to acquire technical knowhow. CSAIL’s latest system correctly predicts about 85% of the world’s cyber attacks using machine learning and AI. “At the lab we saw in real time that the majority of the world’s cyber attacks are directed towards Russia, Japan and India,” an official said.

Cost of courses

•The varsity, officials said, will provide for and prepare internet professionals on the lines of the Microsoft Certified Professional Program. The courses will cost less than ₹5 lakh for courses in data analytics, cloud computing, blockchain, AI, cyber forensics and cyber investigations.

Skill gap

•“The current supply of cyber professionals in the country is about a lakh while the demand hovers around 30 lakh. A cyber attack is taking place every 10 minutes as opposed to 12 minutes previously. The varsity will remedy this,” an official said.

•The government will provide different levels of training and enable affiliated colleges to impart certification for the 15 courses. The State will also supply infrastructure for training and education. A 2015 skill gap analysis for Maharashtra by the consultancy firm KPMG had pointed to a gap of 1.5 crore professionals in 10 sectors. “Of these, there was a greater shortfall in the IoT and Cyber Forensics sectors. The new varsity will bridge this skill gap,” the official said.

•Maharashtra is already in the process of setting up its version of the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team to ward off external cyber threats. In 2016, the State had even appointed a consortium of M/s C-DAC (Centre for Development of Advanced Computing) and Railtel Corporation of India for the ₹838-crore project. The consortium in its analysis used the same technology as GARUDA, India’s national grid computing initiative, and the Graphics and Intelligence Based Script Technology, officials said.

📰 Saving rivers

As a first step, the capacity of treatment plants along all rivers must be urgently expanded

•The finding of the Central Pollution Control Board that the number of critically polluted segments of India’s rivers has risen to 351 from 302 two years ago is a strong indictment of the departments responsible for environmental protection. The data show that the plethora of laws enacted to regulate waste management and protect water quality are simply not working. The study also underscores the failure of many national programmes run by the Centre for river conservation, preservation of wetlands, and water quality monitoring. Tests of Ganga water indicate it has fared better in Uttar Pradesh; but then, the clean-up plan for the river has received dedicated Central funding of ₹3,696 crore over three and a half years, compared to ₹351 crore given to 14 States to conserve 32 rivers. The failed efforts to control pollution are all too evident in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Assam, which account for a third of the degraded river segments. Their problems are worsened by the poor infrastructure available in a large number of cities and towns located near rivers. It is notable that these results come from a CPCB audit that was carried out at the instance of the National Green Tribunal. Ideally, the Board should be reporting more frequently on pollution, and carrying out intensive measures through State Pollution Control Boards to eliminate pollutants, starting with sewage and industrial effluents.

•Managing sewage requires steady funding of treatment plants for all urban agglomerations that discharge their waste into rivers, and also reliable power supply. The deficit between sewerage available and the volume generated along the polluted stretches was estimated by the CPCB last year at 13,196 million litres a day. Rapid urbanisation is widening the gap, since infrastructure planning is not keeping pace with growth in housing. Moreover, with low priority accorded to enforcement of laws by the SPCBs and Pollution Control Committees — something that is unlikely to change quickly — the immediate plan should be to expand the supply of treatment plants. Sustained civil society pressure on governments is vital to ensure that this is done in a time-bound manner. On the industrial side, the plan to bring all liquid effluent discharge from textile units and tanneries to zero has to be pursued vigorously, giving industries the assistance to help them choose the best technologies for the recovery of waste water for reuse. These measures are urgently needed to revive India’s many dying rivers, protect its agriculture, and prevent serious harm to public health from contaminated water. A 2013 World Bank study estimated that environmental degradation is costing India at least $80 billion a year, of which losses to rivers form a significant part. This is indeed a problem of catastrophic dimensions.

📰 NITI Aayog for clear policy on ‘jhum’ cultivation

Proposes that land for shifting cultivation be recognised as agricultural land under agro-forestry

•A recent NITI Aayog publication on shifting cultivation which is particularly practised in the northeastern States, has recommended that the Ministry of Agriculture should take up a “mission on shifting cultivation” to ensure inter-ministerial convergence.

•“Central as well as State government departments of forests and environment, agriculture and allied departments often have divergent approaches towards shifting cultivation. This creates confusion among grass-roots level workers and jhum farmers,” said the report titled, “Mission on shifting cultivation: towards a transformational approach”. The document that calls for policy coherence, said land for shifting cultivation should be recognised as “agricultural land” where farmers practise agro-forestry for the production of food rather than as forestland.

Falling area

•Locally referred to as jhum cultivation, this practice is considered as an important mainstay of food production for a considerable population in northeast India in States like Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Tripura and Manipur.

•The publication notes that between 2000 and 2010, the land under shifting cultivation dropped by 70 %. The report quotes data of the Indian Council of Forestry Research and Education published in Statistical Year Book-2014 by the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, which points out that from 35,142 sq km in 2000, the area under jhum cultivation dropped to 10,306 sq km in 2010.

•“The Wastelands Atlas Map shows a reduction in shifting cultivation in north-eastern States from 16,435.18 sq km to 8,771.62 sq km in two years,” the report says, calling for better data collection and veracity of these figures.

•One of the authors of the publication, R.M. Pant, director of the northeast centre of the National Institute of Rural Development and Panchayati Raj said the drop in shifting cultivation could be for variety of reasons.

Food security

•“There is an increase of aspirations among the communities practising shifting cultivation. While the practice ensures food security it does not provide adequate cash for the families and thus they are shifting to regular agriculture, particularly to horticulture. The MGNREGA has also had an impact on reducing dependency of people on shifting cultivation,” Mr. Pant told The Hindu.

•The publication also addresses the issue of food and nutritional security of communities involved in jhum cultivation during transition and transformation by broadening the public distribution system (PDS) to ensure widespread access to cereals and other basic food items.

•“This can be done by enlisting well-established and well-performing SHG cluster federations already established in several of the NE States,” the reports states.

•Mr. Pant said one of the issues jhum cultivation was that people were returning to fallows, land left after shifting cultivation in a shorter span than was earlier practice.

•“Earlier the cultivators returned to fallows after 10-12 years, now they are returning in three to five years. This has impact on the quality of the soil,” he said.

•The publication also suggested that shifting cultivation fallows must be legally perceived and categorised as ‘regenerating fallows’ and that credit facilities be extended to those who practise shifting cultivation.

📰 Germany rolls out world’s first hydrogen train

It uses fuel cells that produce electricity through a combination of hydrogen and oxygen, leaving behind water and steam

•Germany on Monday rolled out the world’s first hydrogen-powered train, signalling the start of a push to challenge the might of polluting diesel trains with costlier but eco-friendly technology.

•Two bright blue Coradia iLint trains, built by French TGV-maker Alstom, began running a 100 km (62-mile) route between the towns and cities of Cuxhaven, Bremerhaven, Bremervoerde and Buxtehude in northern Germany — a stretch normally plied by diesel trains.

Zero emission

•“The world’s first hydrogen train is entering into commercial service and is ready for serial production,” Alstom CEO Henri Poupart-Lafarge said at an unveiling ceremony in Bremervoerde, the station where the trains will be refuelled with hydrogen.

•Alstom has said it plans to deliver another 14 of the zero-emissions trains to Lower Saxony by 2021, with other German States also expressing an interest.

•Hydrogen trains are equipped with fuel cells that produce electricity through a combination of hydrogen and oxygen, a process that leaves steam and water as the only emissions.

•Excess energy is stored in ion lithium batteries on board the train.

•The Coradia iLint trains can run for around 1,000 km on a single tank of hydrogen, similar to the range of diesel trains. Alstom is betting on the technology as a greener, quieter alternative to diesel on non-electrified railway lines — an attractive prospect to many German cities scrambling to combat air pollution.