The HINDU Notes – 11th April 2019 - VISION

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Thursday, April 11, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 11th April 2019

📰 ‘Deeply regret’ Jallianwala Bagh massacre, Theresa May tells British Parliament

Labour calls for ‘full apology’; 80 MPs writer a letter to Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt

•British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday expressed “regret” in Parliament for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, ahead of the 100th anniversary of the killings on April 13.

•Opening the Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday with a reference to the massacre, Ms. May quoted Queen Elizabeth’s remarks, calling the incident a “distressing example” of Britain’s past history with India. “We deeply regret what happened and the suffering caused,” Ms. May said.

•This came came after MPs from across the political parties called for the formal apology during a debate on Tuesday afternoon.

•Foreign Office Minister Mark Field had told MPs on Tuesday that he recognised that there was a “strong and compelling case” for Britain to go beyond the “deep regret” already expressed.

Labour calls for “full apology"

•The Labour Party on Wednesday called for a “full, clear and unequivocal apology”, from the British government for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, after the Prime Minister described the events as a “shameful scar on British Indian history”, but failed to make the formal apology that many hope for.

•On Wednesday, 80 MPs wrote to Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt calling for an apology, pointing to the “lasting pain both in India and among U.K. citizens with family roots in India.”

’India will never forget’

•MPs had suggested that an apology was owed to the victims and their families as part of efforts to strengthen relations with India. “India will never forget,” Conservative MP Bob Blackman, who introduced the debate on Tuesday told MPs.

•Others argued that there was a need for the U.K. to raise awareness of the atrocity and the darker aspects of Britain’s colonial legacy in schools, which would help children understand where they came from and where the country was today.

•“By othering or writing people out of history, can we really be surprised that hate crime continues to exist or racism continues to fester?” asked Preet Kaur Gill, the Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston. Over 80 MPs from across political parties signed a letter, initiated by Labour MP Pat McFadden, on Wednesday calling for an “official apology.”

Perils of doing nothing

•“Some might ask, why just this atrocity? Yet it is never a good argument to say that because you cannot do everything, you should do nothing,” they wrote.

•“Relations between the U.K. and India today are friendly and constructive. Yet, that does not mean that an apology would not do good... we cannot turn back or erase the past, but we can take steps to recognise what happened and to respond in a way that befits a modern relationship between two countries which today enjoy normal and positive diplomatic relations.”

📰 Anonymity of poll bonds must go: EC

‘They protect the identity of donors’

•The government’s electoral bonds scheme for political funding has legalised anonymity, the Election Commission of India told the Supreme Court on Wednesday, reiterating its strong stand against electoral bonds.

•The poll panel said such bonds protect the identity of political donors and parties receiving the contributions. Donors who contribute less than Rs. 20,000 to political parties through purchase of electoral bonds need not provide their identity details like PAN.

•“This anonymity must go,” the ECI told a Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi.

•Senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi said the “right to vote means making an informed choice.”

•“Knowing your candidate is only half the exercise. People should know the political parties who fund them. More important to know the principal than the agent,” Mr. Dwivedi submitted.

•Initially, the ECI attempted a balancing act of sorts by saying that, “We are not against electoral bonds as such… We are only opposed to anonymity.”

•But Chief Justice Gogoi made Mr. Dwivedi read out from the ECI affidavit and a letter it wrote to the government in May 2017, calling the lack of transparency in the electoral bonds system as a “retrogade step.”

•Mr. Dwivedi said the country, through court rulings and electoral reforms, had taken a step forward from the era of huge cash transactions, but anonymity in electoral bonds is like “two steps backwards.”

•“We are concerned with the amendments brought to the Representation of the People Act . Political parties should put it (information on donations) on their websites so people get to know,” Mr. Dwivedi submitted.

📰 Trickeries of the money bill

The judgment in the tribunals case could have a profound bearing on India’s constitutional arrangements

•The Supreme Court has now heard oral arguments in Revenue Bar Association (RBA) v. Union of India, in which the validity of the Finance Act of 2017, insofar as it affects the structure and functioning of various judicial tribunals, is under challenge. At first blush, a dispute over the apparent inscrutabilities of a tribunal’s working might strike us as uninteresting and, perhaps, even unimportant. But, as the RBA’s arguments show us, how the court decides the case will likely have a profound bearing on India’s constitutional arrangements.

Untrammelled power

•Ordinarily, the Finance Act, which is enacted at the beginning of every accounting year, seeks to give effect to the government’s fiscal policies. In 2017, however, the state wielded the statute like a blunderbuss. It not only set the fiscal agenda for the year ahead but it also toppled the existing regime governing the working of 26 different judicial bodies. Until recently, each of these panels was governed by a separate statute, and those laws individually contained a set of principles providing for, among other things, the criteria employed to select and remove members to and from these bodies, and for salaries, allowances and other such service conditions of the members.

•But, in one fell swoop, the Finance Act not only abolished some of the tribunals but also altogether repealed the standards provided in the different statutes. In their place, the law vested in the Central government an absolute, untrammelled power to make rules to effectively govern the operation of the tribunals.

•The petitioners argued that this move runs sharply athwart judicial independence. The new law, in their belief, deputed to the executive what was really an essential legislative function. Many of these tribunals, which included the National Green Tribunal (NGT), the Income Tax Appellate Tribunal, the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal, and the Industrial Disputes Tribunal, they pointed out, performed roles that were originally undertaken by the higher judiciary. To assign to the executive’s whims the task of establishing the criteria employed in selecting members to the panels and to provide for the members’ service conditions was, therefore, pernicious to the basic principle of separation of powers. Consider one of the consequences. Despite the Supreme Court’s previous ruling that the chairperson of a judicial tribunal ought to be equivalent to the Chief Justice of the high courts, as a result of the rules now made in furtherance of the Finance Act, in 13 different tribunals, a person who is merely qualified to be appointed as a judge of a high court can be selected as the presiding officer.

•The RBA’s case, though, goes beyond questions concerning delegation of power. Of equal concern is the enactment of these stipulations through the wangled mechanism of the Finance Act. Substantive matters concerning the governing of tribunals, one would think, can scarcely be considered as a fiscal measure. Yet the draft law which introduced these provisions was classified as a money bill, and the sanction of the Rajya Sabha was altogether dodged. Although this too might appear on first glimpse to be a quarrel over esoteric matters of procedure, the consequences are enormous, travelling, as they do, to the heart of India’s democratic apparatus.

The need for the minutiae

•In B.R. Ambedkar’s vision, the Constitution embodied not only a charter of rights but also a foundation for republican governance. His worries that democracy in India was “only a top-dressing on an Indian soil, which is essentially undemocratic”, saw him lay stress on a need to diffuse constitutional morality among India’s citizens. Citing the classical historian, George Grote, while moving the draft Constitution on November 4, 1948, Ambedkar said constitutional morality had to be seen as representing “a paramount reverence for the forms of the Constitution”. Since such reverence had to be cultivated, he thought it imperative that the Constitution commend the minutiae of administration rather than leave such matters purely to the legislature’s wisdom. In the absence of such prescriptions, democracy, he feared, would wallow in decline.

•The Constitution’s verbosity has been a source of antipathy to many. Too long, too rigid, too prolix, Sir Ivor Jennings, a preeminent British constitutional expert, reportedly said, of the document, in a lecture delivered at the University of Madras in 1951. But only years later Jennings was lauding India for representing the region’s most successful constitutional experiment. This volte face, as it happened, was occasioned by those provisions of administrative intricacies, which Jennings had initially found so troubling, and which Ambedkar had thought indispensable. And it is those provisions that are today under siege.

Some trickery

•One such clause, Article 110(1), grants to the Lok Sabha Speaker the authority to certify a draft law as a money bill so long as such legislation deals only with all or any of the matters specifically listed in the provision. These include subjects such as the imposition or abolition of a tax, the declaring of any expenditure to be expenditure charged on the Consolidated Fund of India, and, significantly, also any matter otherwise incidental to the subjects specified in Article 110. The ensuing clause clarifies that a draft law will not be a money bill for the reason that it also provides for the imposition or abolition of a tax. In other words, substantive laws, which are not merely incidental to the subjects enlisted in Article 110(1) cannot be finagled into a bill that also happens to contain taxing rules. It is precisely such trickery that the petitioners contended the Finance Act of 2017 indulges in.

•The Union government, for its part, argued that the Speaker of the Lok Sabha was not only correct in making the classification, but that, in any event, her decision was beyond judicial review. To this end, the government relied on Article 110(3), which states that in cases where a dispute arises over whether a bill is a money bill or not, the Speaker’s decision shall be considered final. But, as the Supreme Court has repeatedly held, the finality accorded to the Speaker’s decision does not altogether oust the court’s jurisdiction. The irrevocability of such decisions operate only within the realm of Parliament. For the Constitution expressly vests in the Supreme Court and in the high courts the power to review governmental actions, and issue prerogative writs every time those actions exceed the Constitution’s remit.

•Ultimately, the Speaker derives her power from the Constitution. In classifying a draft law as a money bill, therefore, her decision has to be demonstrably justifiable. An immunity from judicial scrutiny would effectively allow the government to elude the Rajya Sabha’s constitutional checks by simply having the Speaker classify a draft law as a money bill regardless of whether it, in fact, meets the conditions stipulated in Article 110(1) or not.

From a parliamentary custom

•The idea behind a money bill is derived from British parliamentary custom. But unlike in Britain, where judicial review of the Speaker’s opinion is unambiguously prohibited, in India, Article 110 avoids creating any such bar. Money bills exist simply to ensure that the Rajya Sabha isn’t allowed to bring down a government by refusing it access to the exchequer for everyday governance. To use it as a means to nullify the Upper House’s democratic role in making substantive legislation denigrates the Constitution’s form which Ambedkar and the Constituent Assembly considered inviolate.

•As the lawyer Gautam Bhatia wrote in these pages (“The imperial cabinet and an acquiescent court”, March 8, 2019), the Supreme Court has already squandered at least two opportunities in recent times to provide a sense of sanctity to the Constitution’s carefully structured arrangements. The dispute over the Finance Act of 2017, therefore, assumes particular significance. In deciding the case, the court will do well to pay heed to Ambedkar’s warnings, by recognising that the niceties of constitutional form are not a matter of trifles.

📰 Forcing China’s hand?

The U.S. initiative to have Masood Azhar blacklisted at the UN Security Council marks a new turn

•Late last month the U.S. opened another front in its ongoing multi-pronged tussle with China when it circulated a draft resolution to the powerful 15-nation UN Security Council (UNSC) on March 27 to blacklist Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed chief Masood Azhar and subject him to a travel ban, an assets freeze and an arms embargo. It did so knowing full well the Chinese position on the issue as China had put a hold on a French proposal to list Azhar under the 1267 al-Qaeda Sanctions Committee of the Council just a few days earlier.

•Washington has underlined that it would utilise “all available avenues” to ensure that Azhar is held accountable by the UNSC by suggesting that “while we strongly prefer that UNSC designations take place through the committee process, the United States and its allies and partners, including those on the… Security Council, will utilise all available avenues to ensure that the founder and leader of the UN-designated terrorist organisation JeM is held accountable by the international community.”

•China, of course, has reacted strongly to this move by arguing that the U.S. decision to go directly to the UNSC to designate Azhar could scuttle China’s efforts to resolve the issue amicably. As per the Chinese spokesperson, “China has been working hard with relevant sides and is making positive results. The U.S. knows that very well. Under such circumstances, the U.S. still insists on pushing the draft resolution, (which) doesn’t make any sense.”

The U.S.-China angle

•Washington will be aware that China would continue to oppose the move but the fact that it is willing to take on China so openly on this issue underscores that it wants to call China out publicly. This was reflected in U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s tweet: “The world cannot afford China’s shameful hypocrisy toward Muslims. On one hand, China abuses more than a million Muslims at home, but on the other, it protects violent Islamic terrorist groups from sanctions at the UN.”

•France’s proposal to get Azhar listed as a terrorist by the the UN’s 1267 sanctions committee was scuttled by China despite the move having the support of 14 out of 15 members. In its zeal to shield Pakistan, China has used its veto on Azhar’s listing at the 1267 UNSC sanctions committee four times in the past decade. But after the February 14 Pulwama attack that killed 40 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel, for which the JeM took responsibility, Chinese intransigence has come under the spotlight. After China’s block last month, France moved quickly to impose sanctions on Azhar, including a freeze on his assets. It is working with its European partners the matter of putting Azhar on a European Union list of terrorists and terror organisations. The international community, apart from China, has rallied behind India after Pulwama and has pushed Pakistan to undertake serious measures to control terrorism emanating from its territory.

•This has been shaped by India’s diplomatic outreach over the last few years in which global support has been sought to reverse Pakistan’s support to terrorist organisations. But what has given this an added sense of urgency is India’s decision to up the ante after the Pulwama attacks by taking the fight to the Pakistani territory. This has now put the onus on Pakistan to de-escalate, a reversal of the post-1998 situation where in every India-Pakistan crisis it was New Delhi which was expected to take steps for de-escalation even as every crisis was precipitated by Pakistan. After every crisis, the international community, especially the West, would persuade India to ease tensions, and in most cases India relented. The post-Pulwama South Asian strategic equilibrium has shifted as New Delhi has made it clear that it could not be expected to look the other way from Pakistani provocations.

Regional peace

•The latest American move is an unprecedented one, and is not only aimed at forcing the Chinese hand on Masood Azhar but is also a recognition of the new regional context in South Asia where a stronger global attempt to rein in Pakistan is the only viable option of maintaining regional peace. As the U.S. and China prepare the South Asian chessboard, Indian moves have suddenly become the decisive ones and both the powers are calibrating their own moves accordingly.

📰 Dantewada ambush

As polling begins in Chhattisgarh, a brutal reminder of the Maoist challenge

•The Election Commission has taken the correct decision to go ahead with the first phase of polling, on Thursday, in the Lok Sabha election in Chhattisgarh after the deadly Maoist attack in Dantewada on Tuesday. Maoists struck at a convoy in Dantewada, which comes under the Bastar parliamentary constituency, and killed Bhima Mandavi, the BJP MLA from Dantewada, and four security personnel. The aim was clearly to disrupt the electoral process, and it will be vital for the administration to ensure polling without fear of violence. Equally grimly, the attack underlines the reality that for all the reverses they have suffered in the past few years, the Maoists retain their ability to pick and choose targets. Initial reports suggest that an improvised explosive device blew up the lead vehicle in Mandavi’s two-vehicle convoy, and the second then came under gunfire from the Maoists who had laid the ambush. A speedy inquiry should clarify the facts of the incident, but it is reported that the BJP legislator may have been complacent, choosing to ignore the police advice that he take along additional security cover that was available to him. However, these early details also show that in terms of intelligence the attackers managed to be one step ahead, despite the heavy security bandobast in the area in light of the Lok Sabha election.

•Given that it is difficult to fully secure a State with a history of violent attacks, it is important that adequate measures be put in place to protect the candidates in the fray, over 160 of them, for the 11 Lok Sabha constituencies that will go to the polls in three phases, on April 11, 18 and 23. After the relatively peaceful conduct of the Assembly elections in the State late last year, it would have signalled a precipitous slide if the electoral process in Chhattisgarh were to be disrupted now. Beyond security for the peaceful conduct of elections, the latest attack highlights the need for the security forces to keep updating their standard operating procedures. It is also a call for the civil administration to keep extending its reach in the forests of central India, especially Bastar. Even as the security forces stare down the Maoist threat, the political and administrative responses are crucial. In most of the violence-hit regions of India, responsibility for security has been passed on to the paramilitary forces in abundant measure. The capacities of the State police need to be addressed. Local communities, in turn, have to be reassured that the fight against Maoism is also a political one. The Maoist argument lost its potency long ago. But the difficult task of addressing people’s aspirations and concerns, especially about exploitation and alienation from their lands in the face of extractive policies in their resource-rich habitat, must be pursued on a war footing.

📰 RTI Act supersedes official secrets law

Public interest prevails, says judge

•The Right to Information Act confers on ordinary citizens the ‘priceless right’ to demand information even in matters affecting national security and relations with a foreign state, Justice K.M. Joseph observed in his separate judgment in the Rafale case.

•Justice Joseph was countering the claim made by the government for privilege over Rafale purchase documents under the Official Secrets Act (OSA), saying it affected national security and relations with France. But Justice Joseph said the Right to Information (RTI) Act overawes the OSA.

•Referring to Section 8(2) of the RTI Act, Justice Joseph said the government cannot refuse information if disclosure in public interest overshadows certain ‘protected interests.’

•“The Parliament has appreciated that it may be necessary to pit one interest against another and to compare the relative harm and then decide either to disclose or to decline information... if higher public interest is established, it is the will of Parliament that the greater good should prevail though at the cost of lesser harm being still occasioned,” Justice Joseph said, describing the purpose of Section 8(2).

‘Bias a bane’

•The separate judgment also offers a scathing critique on journalistic bias. The judge said “controlling business interests and political allegiances" have eroded journalistic responsibility.

•The judge said bias is as much a bane for a journalist as it is for a judge.

📰 Labour calls for ‘full apology’ for Jallianwala Bagh massacre

80 MPs write a letter to Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt

•The Labour Party on Wednesday called for a “full, clear and unequivocal apology”, from the British government for the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, after Prime Minister Theresa May described the events as a “shameful scar on British Indian history”, but failed to make the formal apology that many hoped for.

•On Wednesday, 80 MPs wrote to Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt calling for an apology, pointing to the “lasting pain both in India and among U.K. citizens with family roots in India.”

’India will never forget’

•MPs had suggested that an apology was owed to the victims and their families as part of efforts to strengthen relations with India. “India will never forget,” Conservative MP Bob Blackman, who introduced the debate on Tuesday, told MPs.

•Others argued that there was a need for the U.K. to raise awareness of the atrocity and the darker aspects of Britain’s colonial legacy in schools, which would help children understand where they came from and where the country was today.

•“By othering or writing people out of history, can we really be surprised that hate crime continues to exist or racism continues to fester?” asked Preet Kaur Gill, the Labour MP for Birmingham Edgbaston. Over 80 MPs from across political parties signed a letter, initiated by Labour MP Pat McFadden, on Wednesday, calling for an “official apology.”

Perils of ‘doing nothing’

•“Some might ask, why just this atrocity? Yet it is never a good argument to say that because you cannot do everything, you should do nothing,” they wrote.

•“Relations between the U.K. and India today are friendly and constructive. Yet, that does not mean that an apology would not do good... we cannot turn back or erase the past, but we can take steps to recognise what happened and to respond in a way that befits a modern relationship between two countries which today enjoy normal and positive diplomatic relations.”

📰 Netanyahu set for record fifth term

He is poised to form a right-wing coalition after his Likud party tied for the top spot with main rival

•Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was on path for victory in Israel’s election on Wednesday after nearly complete results put him in position to form a right-wing coalition and further extend his long tenure in office.

•The results from Tuesday’s vote came despite corruption allegations against the 69-year-old Premier and put him on track to secure a fifth term and become Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister later this year.

•His Likud party looked set to finish with a similar number of seats in Parliament to his main rival, ex-military chief Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White alliance, Israeli media reported.

•But with 97% of the votes counted, results showed the Likud and other right-wing parties allied to him with some 65 seats in the 120-seat Parliament.

•The results would seem to leave President Reuven Rivlin, whose task it is to ask one of the candidates to form a government, with little choice but to pick Mr. Netanyahu.

•Intensive coalition negotiations will follow and could drag on for days or even weeks. Final results were expected by Thursday afternoon, with ballots for soldiers and other special categories of voters yet to be counted.

A close race

•The close race between the two main parties had led to uncertainty after polls closed on Tuesday night and exit surveys were released.

•Both Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Gantz claimed victory after the initial exit surveys that gave Blue and White the most seats. But even then Mr. Netanyahu appeared best placed to form a coalition, with both parties in any case falling far short of an outright majority. Mr. Netanyahu spoke in the early hours of Wednesday at the Likud’s post-election party in Tel Aviv and called it a “magnificent victory.”

•“It will be a right-wing government, but I will be Prime Minister for all,” he said.

•Earlier, while addressing cheering supporters who waived Israeli flags at an event hall in Tel Aviv, Mr. Gantz called it a “historic day”. The vote had long been expected to be close, even with Mr. Netanyahu facing potential corruption charges.

•Fighting for his political life, Mr. Netanyahu spent the weeks ahead of the vote campaigning furiously to energise his right-wing base.

•Mr. Gantz, a newcomer to politics, mounted a strong challenge by brandishing his security credentials while pledging to undo damage he says Mr. Netanyahu has inflicted on the country with divisive politics.

📰 How is Google’s GPay operating without authorisation, Delhi HC asks RBI

Petition says the entity did not figure in the list of ‘Payment System Operators’ authorised by the RBI

•The Delhi High Court on Wednesday asked the Reserve Bank of India how could Google’s mobile payment app, Google Pay, operate in India as a payment transaction system without the requisite authorisation.

•A Bench of Chief Justice Rajendra Menon and Justice A.J. Bhambhani issued notice to the RBI and Google India on a petition seeking direction to the tech giant to immediately stop Google Pay services in India.

•The petition filed by Abhijit Mishra, who claims to be a financial economist, has said that Google Pay did not figure in the list of the ‘Payment System Operators’ authorised by the RBI.

Data storage

•It pointed out that the RBI’s April 2018 Master Circular on Storage of Payment System Data mandated that “all system providers shall ensure that the entire data relating to payment systems operated by them are stored in a system only in India.”

•“Google Pay, being an unregistered entity to the Payment and Settlement Systems Act 2007, is not in compliance with the requirements and the RBI’s Master Circular,” the petition said.

•The petition said Google Pay was using NPCI’s (National Payments Corporation of India) BHIM unified payments Interface (BHIM UPI) for money transfers.

Risk to privacy

•“Google Pay by the virtue of unauthorised access to the BHIM AADHAR – Unified Payments Platform can have serious detrimental effect on the privacy and personal liberty of Indian citizens as the data might be stored in servers located outside India,” it contended.

•The petition said Google India was doing “business as Google Pay though its unauthorised operation in India as Payment and Settlement Systems has unmonitored and unauthorised access to the personal information such as Aadhaar, PAN, transaction etc. of the public.”

•The petition has asked the court for a direction to conduct a compliance audit of the Google India Digital Services Private Limited for its alleged “unauthorised operation in India as Payment and Settlement Systems under the provisions of the Payment and Settlement Systems Act, 2007.”

📰 How can a black hole be imaged?

Photo: Twitter/@NSF
Supermassive black hole, 55 million light years away, was imaged by Event Horizon Telescope

•At a press conference held simultaneously in six places around the world, the Event Horizon Telescope revealed the first ever photograph of the shadow of a black hole.

•Decades of effort and bringing together scientists resulted in the world’s first glimpse of the shadow of the supermassive black hole at the centre of the galaxy Messier 87 (M87).

How was this done?

•This is 55 million light years away from the Earth. Telescopes from eight centres across the world worked as one unit to piece together this image.

•The stunning image looked like an uneven gold ring, heavier at the lower end than the upper.

•Analysis revealed that what was within the dark inner circle was rotating clockwise. This could either be the black hole itself or matter that was falling into it. The mass of this black hole was calculated to be 6.5 billion times the mass of the Sun and its diameter is 100 billion kilometres.

•Though the Event Horizon Telescope set out to image both M87 and Sagittarius A* the black hole at the centre of the Milky way, they have succeeded only in imaging the former, despite its being much further away.

•“This is a marvelous discovery because it is the first time we have actually seen the shadow of a black hole. But it is not surprising that M87 was imaged and not Sagittarius A* because the brightness of the material around M87. Since Sagittarius A* is not as heavily accreting, any small variation in the light from the material around the black hole will make it much harder to image,” says Professor Prajval Shastri, Senior Associate at International Centre for Theoretical Physics and an expert in this field.

•"If immersed in a bright region, like a disc of glowing gas, we expect a black hole to create a dark region similar to a shadow — something predicted by Einstein’s general relativity that we’ve never seen before," explained chair of the EHT Science Council Heino Falcke of Radboud University, the Netherlands, in a press release given out by the Event Horizon Telescope. "This shadow, caused by the gravitational bending and capture of light by the event horizon, reveals a lot about the nature of these fascinating objects and has allowed us to measure the enormous mass of M87’s black hole." The results are published in six papers in a special issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

How can a black hole be imaged?

•How can one image a black hole when it is known that even light – the fastest object in the universe – does not have a high enough velocity to escape its gravitational pull? The fact is, the black hole itself cannot be seen, but at a definite distance from the black hole lies its event horizon, which marks an important boundary. Any object including light that falls within its event horizon is sucked into the black hole. However, if something that orbits the black hole outside the event horizon shines as it usually does, the black hole can be seen in silhouette against this shine.

•Normally stars and other massive objects close to the black hole orbit it and slowly spiral into it. Gas falling into the black hole swirls around it, forming an “accretion disc”. In the accretion disc, the gas gets get heated and emits radiation, or light. Given its powerful gravitational power, the black hole acts as a lens, bending this light. This light can escape and even reach the Earth and be detected. The light coming from M87, a giant elliptical galaxy in Virgo A constellation, was in fact measured by the Event Horizon Telescope earlier. M87 has a black hole at its heart which, at 6.5 billion times the Solar mass, is one of the most massive blackholes known. The effort in effect mapped out the shape of the event horizon.

📰 Smokers spent $700 billion on cigarettes in 2017, says WHO

•Global cigarette sales in 2017 stood at $700 billion, the World Health Organisation (WHO) tweeted, highlighting the fact that the amount was 250 times more than what the international organisation needed to protect human health.

•“This is what people spend every year on health-destroying products. It’s like paying to die and is 250 times more than what World Health Organisation (WHO) needs to protect and promote the most precious commodity on earth — human health,’’ it said in a Twitter post on tobacco abuse worldwide.

Six million deaths

•WHO noted that tobacco is the only legal drug that kills many of its users when used exactly as intended by manufacturers.

•It is estimated that tobacco use (smoking and smokeless) is currently responsible for the death of about six million people across the world each year with many of these deaths occurring prematurely.

•In India, where the mean age at initiation to daily smoking is 18.7 years, the total tax revenue collected from tobacco products is more than ₹34,000 crore annually. Doctors warn that the early age of starting tobacco abuse translates into an increased risk of heart disease in younger people.

•“Worldwide, a total 6,00,000 people are also estimated to die from the effects of second-hand smoke,” WHO said. “Although often associated with ill-health, disability and death from non-communicable chronic diseases, tobacco smoking is also associated with an increased risk of death from communicable diseases,’’ it added.

Reduces risk

•According to information released by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), quitting tobacco abuse immediately reduces the risk of heart attack and/or stroke. This helps even if a person has already had a heart attack and/or stroke, irrespective of his/her age.

Smokeless tobacco

•“Despite accounting for 17% of the world population, tobacco consumption in the form of cigarettes in India is less than 2% of global consumption,” notes the Tobacco Institute of India (TII), a representative body of farmers, manufacturers, exporters, etc. “However, India accounts for 84% of the world’s consumption of smokeless tobacco while accounting for low per capita consumption of cigarettes,’’ it adds.

•Among young people, the short-term health consequences of smoking include respiratory and non-respiratory effects, addiction to nicotine and the associated risk of other drug use. Long-term health consequences of youth smoking are reinforced by the fact that most young people who smoke regularly continue to smoke through adulthood. Also cigarette smokers have a lower level of lung function than those persons who have never smoked, noted WHO.