The HINDU Notes – 03rd January 2019 - VISION

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Thursday, January 03, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 03rd January 2019

πŸ“° Bill to allow voluntary use of Aadhaar ID introduced

Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad asserts that the proposed amendment is in compliance with the Supreme Court judgement.

•Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Wednesday introduced a Bill in the Lok Sabha that will provide legal backing for voluntary seeding of biometric Aadhaar ID with mobile numbers and bank accounts after the Supreme Court barred mandatory use of the 12-digit unique identifier by private firms.

‘No privacy violation’

•He said the proposed amendment Bill was in compliance with the Supreme Court’s judgment and that there would be no infringement of privacy.

•He also said the government was ready with a data protection Bill and it would soon be introduced. “It [the linking] is voluntary and not mandatory at all,” Mr. Prasad said. The parallel authentication norms were there to safeguard privacy, he added. Objections were raised by Shashi Tharoor of the Congress, Saugata Roy of the Trinamool and N.K. Premachandran of the RSP.

•Opposing the Bill, Mr. Roy said the proposed amendments infringe the Supreme Court judgment. He said it should have been introduced after consulting the stakeholders and asked that “the Bill not be introduced.”

Call to withdraw Bill

•Mr. Tharoor said it violated the ruling that held the right to privacy to be a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution. “The Bill is premature because first we need enactment of data protection law. Where is the draft data protection law? The Bill must be withdrawn and revised,” he said. His colleague from Kerala, Mr. Premachandran endorsed his views.

•Calling these apprehensions as ‘misplaced,’ the Bill to amend the Aadhaar (Targeted Delivery of Financial and Other Subsidies, Benefits and Services) Act, 2016 and another Bill to amend the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 and Prevention of Money-laundering Act, 2002 were introduced in the House amid protests by members of the AIADMK and the TDP over various issues.

•The two Acts are being changed to allow voluntary sharing of the 12-digit identification number for obtaining new mobile phone connections and for the opening of bank accounts.

•Under the proposed changes, an Aadhaar holder can opt for offline verification using a QR scan and will not require to share the actual Aadhaar number.

πŸ“° Union Cabinet clears panel to promote Assam’s cultural identity

•The Union Cabinet chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has approved the setting up of a high-level committee for implementation of Clause 6 of the Assam Accord which provides for constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of Assam.

•It also recommended reserving Assembly seats for indigenous communities in the State.

•Home Minister Rajnath Singh had assured Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal in May 2018 that a committee will be set up at the earliest in consultation with the State government.

•“It has been felt that Clause 6 of the Assam Accord has not been fully implemented even almost 35 years after the accord was signed. The Cabinet, therefore, approved the setting up of a high level committee to suggest constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards as envisaged in Clause 6 of the Assam Accord,” Mr. Rajnath Singh told a press conference on Wednesday.

•After the Assam agitation of 1979-1985, the accord was signed on 15 August, 1985. Clause 6 envisaged that appropriate constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards, shall be provided to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people.

•“The committee shall examine the effectiveness of actions since 1985 to implement Clause 6. It will hold discussions with all stakeholders and assess the required quantum of reservation of seats in the Assembly and local bodies for Assamese people. The committee will also assess the requirement of measures to be taken to protect Assamese and other indigenous languages of Assam, quantum of reservation in employment under Government of Assam and other measures to protect, preserve and promote cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of Assamese people,” Mr. Singh said.

•The composition and terms of reference of the committee will be issued separately by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

•“It is expected that the setting up of the committee will pave the way for the implementation of the Assam Accord in letter and spirit and will help fulfil the longstanding expectations of the Assamese people,” he said.

•The Cabinet also approved a number of measures to fulfil the outstanding issues related to the Bodo community. The Bodo Accord was signed in 2003 which resulted in the establishment of a Bodoland Territorial Council under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution of India. However, there have been representations from different organisations of Bodos to fulfil various outstanding demands.

•The Cabinet approved the establishment of a Bodo Museum-cum-language and cultural study center, modernisation of the existing All India Radio station and Doordarshan Kendra at Kokrajhar and naming a superfast train as Aronai Express. Relevant Ministries will take the required actions to implement these decisions. The State government will also take necessary measures related to appropriate land policy and land laws, besides setting up of institutions for research and documentation of customs, traditions and languages of indigenous communities.

•A joint parliamentary committee on the Citizenship Amendment Bill, 2016 is expected to table its report in Parliament paving the way to grant citizenship to six persecuted minorities, Hindus, Jains, Sikhs, Parsis, Christians and Buddhists from Pakistan, Afghanistan and Bangladesh who came to India before 2014.

•There has been strong resistance to the Bill in BJP- ruled Assam as it would pave the way for giving citizenship, mostly to illegal Hindu migrants from Bangladesh in Assam who came after March 1971, in violation of the Assam Accord, 1985.

πŸ“° Powering South Asian integration

The new electricity guidelines are a first step towards creating a true regional market 

•On December 18, the Union Ministry of Power issued a seemingly anodyne memo that set the rules for the flow of electricity across South Asian borders. Evaluated against the turbulent politics around the issue, the new guidelines are a startling departure from India’s previous stance. In an atmosphere of regional intrigue and mistrust, it is a rare and recent example of political pragmatism. It is important not only because it leads South Asian electricity trade in progressive directions but is also a concession to India’s neighbours in an area of political and economic importance.

A course correction

•The revision is a response to two years of intense backroom pressure from neighbours, particularly Bhutan and Nepal, to drop trade barriers put up in 2016. The new guidelines meet most of their demands, that were timed to coincide with the recent visit of Bhutan’s new Prime Minister. India has thus signalled that it is serious about working with neighbours on the issues that should undergird 21st century South Asian regionalism, such as electricity trade.

•This course correction is a return to a trajectory of incremental, hard-earned progress developed over the decades. Ideas of tying South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) countries together with cross-border energy flows — that punctuated the early 2000s — began to gain steam with substantial power trade agreements between India and Bhutan (2006) and Bangladesh(2010). These were driven by India’s need for affordable power to fuel quickened growth in a recently liberalised economy.

•The apotheosis came in 2014 with the signing of the SAARC Framework Agreement for Energy Cooperation and the India-Nepal Power Trade Agreement in quick succession. The new government in New Delhi was keen on regional cooperation, and these agreements imposed few restrictions on trade. Instead, they laid the contours of an institutional structure that would allow private sector participation and facilitate market rationality in electricity commerce. At the Fifth SAARC Energy Ministers’ meeting that year, Power Minister Piyush Goyal said he dreamt of ‘a seamless SAARC power grid within the next few years’ and offshore wind projects ‘set up in Sri Lanka’s coastal borders to power Pakistan or Nepal’. Yet, two years later, the Union Ministry of Power released guidelines that imposed a slew of major restrictions on who could engage in cross-border electricity trade.

•There was a strong undercurrent of defensiveness in the guidelines of 2016. They seemed to be a reaction to perceptions of increased Chinese investment and influence in the energy sectors of South Asian neighbours.

Some irritants

•The guidelines prevented anyone other than Indian generators in the neighbouring country, or generators owned by that country’s government, from selling power to India. Excluded were scores of privately held companies, particularly in Nepal, that had hoped to trade with India. In restricting access to the vast Indian market, the economic rationale for Nepali hydropower built for export was lost. Bhutan was worried about a clause that required the exporting generation companies to be majority owned by an Indian entity. This created friction in joint ventures between India and Bhutan. Bhutan also fretted about limited access to India’s main electricity spot markets, where it would have been well placed to profit from evening peaks in demand. Bangladesh had sensed an opportunity to partially address its power crisis with imports from Bhutan and Nepal routed through Indian territory but the guidelines complicated this by giving India disproportionate control over such trade.

•After two years of protests from neighbours, the new guidelines resolve all these issues and restore the governance of electricity trade to a less restrictive tone. Earlier concerns that India was enabling the incursion of foreign influence into neighbouring power sectors seem to have been replaced by an understanding that India’s buyer’s monopoly in the region actually give it ultimate leverage. More broadly, India seems to have acknowledged that the sinews of economic interdependency created by such arrangements have the political benefit of positioning India as a stable development partner rather than one inclined to defensive realpolitik.

Tool for a greener grid

•A liberal trading regime is in India’s national interest. As India transitions to a power grid dominated by renewables, regional trade could prove useful in maintaining grid stability. Major commitments to renewables, which could amount to half of India’s installed power within a decade, have prompted justifiable concerns about stabilising the grid when the sun goes down or in seasons when renewables are less potent. Harnessing a wider pool of generation sources, particularly hydropower from the Himalayas that ramps up instantly as India turns on its lights and appliances after sunset, could be an important instrument in achieving a greener grid. Nepal and Bhutan have long recognised that their prosperity is tied to the sustainable use of vast hydropower reserves.

•The new guidelines are a tentative first step towards the creation of a true regional market in which generators across the subcontinent compete to deliver low-cost, green energy to consumers. Since this would soften the hard borders of South Asia, it is essentially a political vision. The new guidelines are a significant step in this direction because, for the first time, they allow tripartite trading arrangements, where power generated in a country is routed over the territory of a neighbour to be consumed in a third. This is a crucial move towards the evolution of complex, multi-country market arrangements. Such markets require the construction of regional institutions that absorb the politics and manage the technicalities of electricity trade.

•At present, this function is managed by the Indian state because of its geographic centrality and the ready availability of institutions that manage its domestic power sector. As volumes increase and experience in regional trade grows, South Asian nations might feel the need to build joint, independent regional institutions that proffer clear and stable rules of the road. The political vision to create this — felt in the new guidelines — must be maintained.

πŸ“° Deterrence or danger?

India does not gain anything by escalating the nuclear arms race in the region with INS Arihant

•The indigenous nuclear submarine, INS Arihant, is a great achievement for India. The Indian Navy, its engineers and scientists have done us immensely proud. But it might not be inappropriate to ask: Will Arihant make us more secure, and if so, in what way?

•It has been universally recognised that the sole justification for having nuclear weapons is their deterrence value. If ever a nuclear bomb has to be used, it has destroyed its raison d’Γͺtre. The initiation of a nuclear attack would mean utter destruction, not just for the two parties involved but also for regions far beyond. The Americans got away with their bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, however controversial it was, because they had a monopoly of nukes at the time. Today, the situation is vastly different and far more dangerous. If nuclear weapons fail to deter the outbreak of war involving use of such weapons, they have disastrously failed in their deterrence mission.

A nuclear triad

•The major nuclear weapon powers, principally the U.S., have developed the myth of a nuclear triad, that consists of land-based, air-based and sea-based nuclear delivery systems. The theory is that if country A initiates a nuclear attack on country B in a first strike, country B must be in a position, even after absorbing the nuclear strike, to retaliate with a massive nuclear attack on the enemy country. This is called second strike capability. In the event that country A manages to destroy the land and air-based nukes of country B, country B will still have its third leg in the shape of sea-based nuclear-tipped missiles, called SLBMs or submarine-launched ballistic missiles, for use against country A because the sea-based missiles, launched from nuclear-powered submarines, would have remained undetected and hence safe from enemy attack. Thus, the rationale for the naval leg of the triad is its survivability. Essentially, the argument in favour of the naval leg is not that it makes the deterrent more credible, but that, as mentioned above, it will survive for retaliation.

•In the event that an enemy initiates a nuclear strike, it will never be able to destroy all the land and air-based nuclear weapons of the target country. Again, the enemy might attack population centres and not nuclear weapon sites; in that case, all the nukes of the target country would be available for retaliation. In either case, the deterrence capability of the target country would remain intact. If the possession of the naval leg were to deter the enemy, ab initio, from initiating a nuclear launch, it would add to the deterrence value. Survivability by itself does not appear to make deterrence more credible.

•If the hostilities reach the threshold where a country may consider using nuclear weapons, it would be preceded by a period of conventional warfare. The enemy would also have to reach the conclusion that unless he uses his nuclear weapons, he would suffer a defeat that he simply cannot afford to let happen. A conventional conflict itself will not start before several days of negotiations, including possible mediation by external powers and the UN Security Council. Even a small incident involving India and Pakistan would immediately invite big powers to rush in and mediate pull-back of forces, etc. Whether the external interventions succeed or not in preventing a major war, the target country would have ample time to disperse its land and air-based nuclear assets. The naval leg does not seem indispensable.

The case of Pakistan

•Let us take Pakistan. One does not know if it has a nuclear doctrine, but even if it does not have one, that by itself does not make it an irresponsible nuclear power. Pakistan has rejected the no-first-use policy and has in fact said that it would not rule out using nukes if it felt compelled to do so in a war. It claims to have so-called tactical nuclear weapons which can presumably be used in a battle field. Pakistan, in other words, keeps the option of using nuclear weapons first as a deterrent against a conventional attack by India. India’s stand is clear. Any use of nuclear weapon, tactical or otherwise, will invite massive retaliation by India which would have disastrous consequences for Pakistan. (Will India remain unaffected by radiation, etc? Can we guarantee that the winds will not blow in our direction? The radiation, debris, heat, blast, etc will be carried well beyond the belligerents’ borders.) So, even assuming that we will have the political and moral will to unleash the full force of our nukes, how does acquiring SSBNs or a nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine make our deterrent more credible?

•Since Pakistan is still a long way away from having the naval leg of the triad, would not our land and air-based nukes be enough of a deterrent? Is it conceivable that after destroying each other’s land and air-based nuclear platforms, either country will have even the need to bring into play its naval leg? And, if and when Pakistan does acquire the third leg, which it is bound to sooner or later, even if it has to ‘eat grass’, will it then make the nuclear equation more stable and make each country’s deterrent more credible? We may not admit it, but we are engaged in a nuclear, and conventional, arms race, exactly the same way the superpowers were during the Cold War era.

•China is far ahead of India in many respects. It has more warheads and more nuclear-powered submarines. Both India and China have repeatedly declared adherence to the no-first-use doctrine. So where is the justification for acquiring the naval leg of the triad? We have a territorial dispute with China, but both countries have acquired enough experience to manage and contain the conflict. It is reasonably safe to say that there will not be an all-out war involving the use of nuclear weapons between India and China.

•One of the arguments in the 1960s and 1970s in favour of atom bombs was that they would be cheaper in the long run. That has not happened. The acquisition of expensive conventional platforms as well as the ever expanding nuclear programme has destroyed that argument. India has been in the forefront in campaign for nuclear disarmament. Let us not at least escalate a nuclear arms race in our region.

πŸ“° Breaking the stranglehold

There is scant focus on India’s secret shame: bonded labour

•Last year, on December 22, an incident of bonded labour reached the national headlines, even if only for a fleeting moment. BJP president Amit Shah tweeted on the subject. A week earlier, 52 trafficked labourers had been rescued from a ginger farm in Karnataka where they had been made to work inhuman hours with little pay. Yet, for the most part, both the mainstream discourse and social media commentary miss the underlying phenomenon: bonded labour, India’s secret shame.

•The practice was abolished under the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, 1976 after the issue found a place in the Emergency-era’s 20-point programme. Four decades on, independent surveys and State government-led committees still point to its myriad forms. The Global Slavery Index 2016 estimated there to be 1.8 crore Indians in modern slavery, including bondedness, while the International Labour Organisation said there were 1.17 crore bonded labourers in 2014.

•However, there has been no government-led nationwide survey since 1978, despite each district having been given ₹4.5 lakh for such surveys. Instead, the government relies on rescue and rehabilitation numbers: Since 1976, over 3.13 lakh people have been rescued, with Karnataka topping the list (nearly 66,300 people). This does not reflect the extent of the prevalence of bonded labour, as most labourers are not aware of the Act and turn to the authorities only when it becomes overtly violent.

•Moreover, National Crime Records Bureau data show that not all cases are reported by the police. Between 2014 and 2016, they recorded just 1,338 victims, with 290 police cases filed — a stark difference from 5,676 rescues reported by six States in this period.

•This becomes important given the structure of the disbursal of rehabilitation funds: ₹20,000 is given as immediate relief while the rest (which depends on the case) is given only after conviction of the accused. In these three years, only 28 cases (of the 334 in trial) saw judicial resolution, resulting in a conviction rate of just 32%. It is no surprise that the Centre has had to spend just ₹7.65 crore on rehabilitation in this period. Some patterns emerge. Traffickers continue to source labour in socio-economically backward districts, an example being Bolangir in Odisha. Tribals and Dalits remain vulnerable. Advances and small loans accompanied by promises of steady pay are tools of entrapment. Brick kilns, quarries, horticulture farms, shoe and plastic factories in metropolises are venues for this practice.

•The Ministry of Labour says, “The root of the problem lies in the social customs and economic compulsions,” before listing a “multi-pronged” strategy which focusses solely on rescue and rehabilitation processes. However, a preventive measure, which must start with a survey, is missing. Creating financial access for vulnerable communities/vulnerable districts could help. Further, regulatory attention must focus on trafficking rings and sectors.

πŸ“° Lessons from Kerala

Its experience could help achieve the objectives of the Astana Declaration on primary care

•Last year, in October at Astana, Kazakhstan, world leaders declared their commitment to ‘Primary Care’. They were reaffirming what their predecessors had done in Alma Ata in 1978. The Alma Ata Declaration, as it was called, had been criticised as wishful thinking without a clear road map on strategies and financing — an allegation that could be levelled against the present declaration too.

•In 2016, Kerala had, as part of the Aardram mission to transform health care, attempted to re-design its primary care to address the current and future epidemiological situation. Lessons learnt from Kerala’s experience could provide insights into what needs to be done to ensure the objectives of the Astana Declaration do not remain a statement of pious intentions in India.

•The Astana Declaration would “aim to meet all people’s health needs across the life course through comprehensive preventive, promotive, curative, rehabilitative services and palliative care”. A representative list of primary care services are provided: “including but not limited to vaccination; screenings; prevention, control and management of non-communicable and communicable diseases; care and services that promote, maintain and improve maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health; and mental health and sexual and reproductive health”.

The Kerala experience

•In the revamped primary care, Kerala tried to provide these services and more with mixed results. These services cannot be provided without adequate human resources. It is nearly impossible to provide them with the current Indian norm of one primary care team for a population of 30,000. Kerala tried to reduce the target population to 10,000. Even the reduced target turned out to be too high to be effective. Kerala’s experience suggests that providing comprehensive primary care would require at least one team for 5,000 populations. This would mean a six-fold increase in cost of manpower alone. Since supply of more human resources would generate demand for services, there would be a corresponding increase in the cost of drugs, consumables, equipment and space. So a commitment to provide comprehensive primary care — even in the limited sense in which it is understood in India — would be meaningful only if there is also a commitment to substantially increase the allocation of funds. It is sobering to remember that most successful primary care interventions allocate not more than 2,500 beneficiaries per team.

•Providing the entire set of services, even if limited to diagnosis and referral, is beyond the capacity of medical and nursing graduates without specialised training. Practitioners in most good primary care systems are specialists, often with postgraduate training. The Post Graduate Course in Family Medicine, which is the nearest India has to such a course, is available in very few institutions. If the services are to be provided by mid-level service providers, as is planned in many States, building their capacity will be even more of a challenge. It would be a long time for this to be built. Kerala has tried to get over this through short courses in specific areas such as management of diabetes mellitus, hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and depression.

•The primary care system will be effective only when the providers assume responsibility for the health of the population assigned to them and the population trusts them for their health needs. Both are linked to capacity, attitude and support from referral networks and the systemic framework. It will not be possible unless the numbers assigned are within manageable proportions. Access to longitudinal data on individuals through dynamic electronic health records and decision support through analysis of data will be helpful in achieving the link.

•Discussion on primary care in India focusses only on the public sector while more than 60% of care is provided by the private sector. The private sector provides primary care in most countries though it is paid for from the budget or insurance. The private sector can provide good quality primary care if there are systems to finance care and if the private sector is prepared to invest in developing the needed capacities. Devising and operating such a system (more fund management than insurance though it can be linked to insurance) will be a major challenge but a necessary one if good quality primary care is to be available to the entire population. Negotiations to set up such systems in Kerala are only at the initial stage.

•Achieving Universal Health Coverage — one of the Sustainable Development Goals to which India is committed — is not possible without universal primary health care. The experience of Kerala in transforming primary care reveals the steepness of the path India will have to cover to reach the goals committed to in the Astana Declaration.

πŸ“° China building ‘advanced’ warships for Pak.: report

It is a version of its most advanced guided missile frigate

•China is building the first of four “most advanced” naval warships for Pakistan as part of a major bilateral arms deal to ensure among other things “balance of power” in the strategic Indian Ocean, the state media reported.

•Equipped with modern detection and weapon systems, it will be capable of anti-ship, anti-submarine and air-defence operations, China Daily quoted state-owned defence contractor China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC) as saying.

•The under-construction ship is a version of the Chinese Navy’s most advanced guided missile frigate, it said.

•CSSC did not specify the ship’s type but said it is being constructed at its Hudong-Zhonghua shipyard in Shanghai.

•China, an “all-weather ally” of Islamabad, is the largest supplier of weapon system to Pakistan. Both countries also jointly manufacturing the JF-Thunder, a single engine multi-role combat aircraft.

•The ship’s class is Type 054AP, which means it is based on the Type 054A of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy, the report quoted the Pakistani Navy as saying.

•The Pakistani Navy previously said four such ships had been ordered, according to the report.

‘Balance of power’

•Once constructed, the warship “will be one of the largest and technologically advanced platforms of the Pakistani Navy and strengthen the country’s capability to respond to future challenges, maintain peace and stability and the balance of power in the Indian Ocean region,” the report said.

•It will also support the Pakistani Navy’s initiative of securing sea lanes for international shipping by patrolling distant waters, the daily quoted CSSC as saying.

•The report said Type 054A is the best frigate in service with the PLA Navy. Military sources said the ship has a fully loaded displacement of about 4,000 metric tonnes and is equipped with advanced radars and missiles. About 30 Type 054As are in service with the PLA Navy.

•An insider in China’s shipbuilding sector with knowledge of the Type 054AP programme told the Daily that the ship is the largest and most powerful combat vessel China has ever exported.

•“Based on pictures circulating on the Internet, the ship will have vertical launch cells that can fire Chinese HQ-16 air-defence missiles and other kinds of missiles,” he said.

πŸ“° Taiwan reunification with China 'inevitable', says Chinese President Xi Jinping

Mr. Xi warns against any efforts to promote the island's independence

•Taiwan's unification with the mainland is “inevitable”, President Xi Jinping said on Wednesday, warning against any efforts to promote the island's independence and saying China would not renounce the option of using military force to bring it into the fold.

•China still sees democratic Taiwan as part of its territory to be reunified, despite the two sides being ruled separately since the end of a civil war on the mainland in 1949.

•“China must and will be united... which is an inevitable requirement for the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people in the new era,” Mr. Xi said in a speech commemorating the 40th anniversary of a message sent to Taiwan in 1979, in which Beijing called for unification and an end to military confrontation.

'No promise to give up military force'

•“We make no promise to give up the use of military force and reserve the option of taking all necessary means” against Taiwanese separatist activities and “outside forces” that interfere with reunification, he said.

•In his speech, Xi described unification under a “one country, two systems” approach that would “safeguard the interests and well-being of Taiwanese compatriots”.

•Taiwan considers itself a sovereign state, with its own currency, political and judicial systems, but has never declared formal independence from the mainland.

•Relations have been strained for the past two years since the election of President Tsai Ing-wen, who has refused to acknowledge Beijing's stance that the island is part of “one China”.

•On Tuesday, Tsai warned Beijing that Taiwan's people would never give up the kind of freedoms unseen on the authoritarian mainland.

•Beijing “must respect the insistence of 23 million people for freedom and democracy” and “must use peaceful and equal terms to handle our differences”, she said.

'One country, two systems'

•To accommodate differences in Taiwan's political system and civil society, China has proposed adopting the “one country, two systems” policy, which was implemented in Hong Kong after the British handed the city back to China in 1997.

•But some say the erosion of civil liberties in Hong Kong sets a negative precedent for Taiwan.

•“They (China) are gobbling up Hong Kong, not just politically but culturally and economically too”, Claudia Mo, a pro-democracy Hong Kong lawmaker, told AFP.

•She said that few would be won over by Xi's suggestion that Hong Kong and Macau could be a blueprint for Taiwan given how freedoms have rapidly faded there in recent years.

•“It's so obvious that they're trying to assimilate Hong Kong into wider mainland China in every way. How would any Taiwanese think that's going to work for them?”

•But others believed Taiwanese would slowly come on board.

•“People's heart won't change in one day, but I think one country, two systems is a way to do it. The unification might take one, two, or even three more generations to achieve,” said a 55-year old construction worker in Hong Kong who gave his surname as Lam.

•Last October, tens of thousands of Taiwan independence campaigners took to the streets in the first large-scale protest calling for an outright independence vote since the island first became a democracy more than 20 years ago.

•But some in Taiwan say worsening relations with Beijing have harmed business, as cuts to pensions and a reduction in public holidays compound frustrations over a stagnant economy where salaries have not kept up with the rise in cost of living.

•Last year, Taiwan's ruling party suffered a massive defeat in mid-term polls, causing Tsai to resign as leader of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party, while the main opposition Kuomintang, which oversaw an unprecedented thaw with Beijing before Tsai took office in 2016, made gains.

•Beijing has adopted a multi-pronged approach to diminish Taiwan's presence on the international stage in recent years, including blocking it from global forums and poaching its dwindling number of official diplomatic allies.

•China has also successfully pressured global firms to list Taiwan as part of China on their company websites.

πŸ“° Exotic trees eating up Western Ghat’s grasslands

But shola forests have remained “relatively unchanged”

•The new year heralds bad news for the high-altitude grasslands of the Western Ghats. Over four decades, the country lost almost one-fourth of these grasslands and exotic invasive trees are primarily to blame, find scientists. Though grassland afforestation using pine, acacia and eucalyptus ceased in 1996, the exotics still invade these ecosystems, confirms a study published on January 2 in the international journal Biological Conservation.

•When satellite images revealed to a team including scientists from the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER, Tirupati) grassland loss in Tamil Nadu’s Palani hills in early 2018, they decided to study how shola-grasslands (characterised by patches of stunted evergreen shola trees in the valleys and grasslands on hill slopes) across the Ghats – from the Baba Budan Hills in Karnataka to Tamil Nadu's Ashambu Hills – changed in extent between 1972 and 2017. The satellite images they accessed reveal that 60% of the shola-grassland landscape has changed; almost 40% (516 km2) of native high-elevation grasslands have disappeared.

•Most of this loss occurred on the mountain tops of the Nilgiri, Palani and Anamalai hill ranges, which comprise more than half of the Ghat’s shola-grassland ecosystems, primarily due to the expansion of exotic trees (pine, acacia and eucalyptus). Even though no plantations were established between 2003 and 2017, invasion by existing trees increased areas under exotic plantations by 27% in the Palanis and 17% in the Nilgiris. Broadly, shola-grassland ecosystems in Tamil Nadu showed the highest rates of invasion. The researchers also visited 840 locations across the Ghats to confirm these changes. Despite this, there’s some good news: shola forests have remained “relatively unchanged” over these years. The Anamalai-Munnar areas have also remained stable during this time.

‘Little research focus’

•However, all possible efforts must be made to conserve the remaining grassland tracts, said scientist Dr. Robin V. Vijayan (IISER Tirupati), one of the authors who led the study. “There is very little research focus on grasslands and mechanisms to restore them are also few, unlike forests,” he added.

•“The immediate reaction would be to remove all exotics including mature plantations from grasslands but that should not be done,” said Godwin Vasanth Bosco, who has restored some grassland patches in Udhagamandalam.

πŸ“° All along the coastline

What changes will the notification bring?

•The Cabinet has approved a significant relaxation of development controls along the coastline through the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) Notification 2018, as part of a plan to encourage construction of buildings and launch tourism activities in areas that are closer to the high tide line. State governments and others had made representations, calling for a review of coastal management policies. Recommendations for changes were then made by the Shailesh Nayak Committee.

•The Centre has taken the view that both affordable housing availability and tourism will grow if restrictions on coastal zones are relaxed. With this objective, a decision has been taken to permit current Floor Space Index (FSI) or Floor Area Ratio (FAR) in urban areas coming under CRZ-II — which governs the size of buildings — as on the date of the new notification. This does away with the restrictions on construction which date back to the Development Control Rules of 1991. The CRZ-II urban category, as per the CRZ notification of 2011, pertains to areas “that have been developed up to or close to the shoreline”, and are legally designated municipal limits already provided with roads, water supply, sewerage connections and so on.

What about rural areas?

•For rural areas, the newly approved notification adds a sub-category to CRZ-III. The new provision, CRZ-III A, applies development restrictions to a much smaller area of 50 metres from the high tide line, compared to the 200 metres that was earmarked as the no development zone (NDZ) earlier for densely populated areas. These are defined as places with a population of 2,161 per sq km as per the 2011 Census. Areas with a population density below that will continue to have 200 metres as the NDZ.

•However, for tourism expansion, the new scheme will allow temporary facilities such as shacks, toilet blocks and changing rooms, maintaining only a slim margin of 10 metres from the high tide line.

•The system of granting clearances has also been changed. States will have the authority to approve proposals for urban (CRZ-II) and rural (CRZ-III) areas. The Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change will grant clearances for ecologically sensitive areas (CRZ-I), and areas falling between the low tide line and 12 nautical miles seaward. The modifications also include demarcation of a 20-metre no development zone for all islands and guidelines to deal with sensitive areas.

What will be the likely impact?

•The protection of ecologically sensitive areas and the marine environment is the primary objective of coastal regulation, along with the goal of improving the lives of coastal communities.

•When the draft of the new CRZ notification was published in 2018, concerns were raised that it ignored two major issues: maintaining a well demarcated hazard line and factoring in the effects of climate change on sea levels. The disastrous impacts of periodic cyclones show that coastlines will become even more vulnerable.

•Protection of fishers poses a challenge, since the relaxation of development controls could subject them to severe commercial pressures. The decision to allow construction and tourist facilities closer to the coast may boost employment and grow local business, but without strong environmental safeguards, these could damage fragile ecosystems. Excessive beach lighting is confusing and harmful to some marine species, including migrating turtles.

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