The HINDU Notes – 13th April 2019 - VISION

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Saturday, April 13, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 13th April 2019

📰 Message from the martyrs of Jallianwala Bagh

They beckon all of us to give human freedom respect, human beings dignity, and human rights recognition

•One hundred years ago, on April 12, a letter dropped into the British Raj’s postal system. The writer of the letter was a world-famous poet. That is not the only reason for the letter having been unusual. It was, by the political sights of the government of the times, seditionist. But luminously so.

•The Raj’s censors must have been greatly tempted to see its contents; perhaps they did, spurred by the ruling ‘order’ of the day, the Rowlatt Act. Curbing, in the name of war-time discipline, every conceivable civil liberty, the Act enabled stricter control of the press, arrests without warrant, indefinite detention without trial. It empowered the police to search a place and arrest any person they disapproved of without warrant. Naturally, it outraged India, and both the writer and recipient of the letter.

•Written on April 12, 1919, by Rabindranath Tagore to Mohandas K. Gandhi, it was about what its writer called “the great gift of freedom”. He said: “…India’s opportunity for winning it will come to her when she can prove that she is morally superior to the people who rule her by their right of conquest.”

‘Faith or the life in death’

•Tagore knew, doubtless, that the phrase “morally superior” would strike a chord in Gandhi. As would the sentence that followed: “She must willingly accept her penance of suffering, the suffering which is the crown of the great. Armed with her utter faith in goodness, she must stand unabashed before the arrogance that scoffs at the power of spirit.” Tagore ended the letter, as a poet would, with a verse: “Give me the faith of the life in death, of the victory in defeat, of the power hidden in the frailness of beauty, of the dignity of pain that accepts hurt but disdains to return it.” Prose is ever the ‘doer’, poetry the ‘artist’. And so this letter and the line just cited cannot hope to compete with Tagore’s much-quoted poem ‘Where the mind is without fear…’. But taken for itself, this sentence has to rank among the greatest expressions in prose of truth’s protest against power. Certain words, poetic word-images, in that line are scorching: death, defeat, dignity, pain, hurt.

•India had, only a few days earlier, seen all those five word-images at play in Delhi. As the scholar-lawyer Anil Nauriya has recently reminded us, on March 30, 1919, the Raj’s police fired at a gathering in Delhi protesting the Rowlatt Act on a call by Mahatma Gandhi for a nation-wide hartal. Nauriya lists among them Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims.

•A sample: Abdul Ghani, b. 1894. Killed in bayonet charge by a British Army unit near the Town Hall, Delhi. Atam Prakash: Received bullet wound in firing by the police and died the same day. Chandra Bhan, b. 1889. Received bullet wound in firing by an Army unit and died the same day. Chet Ram: Received bullet wound in firing by the police and died the same day. Gopi Nath, b. 1889: Received bullet wound in firing by an Army unit and died the same day. Hashmatullah Khan: b. 1890: Received bullet wound in firing by an Army unit and died the same day. Mam Raj: Received bullet wound in firing by the police and died the same day. Radha Saran, b. 1897: Received bullet wound in firing by an Army unit and died the same day. Radhey Shyam, b. 1891: Received bullet wound in firing by an Army unit and died the same day. Ram Lal, b. 1886: Received bullet wound in firing by an Army unit and died the same day. Ram Saroop: Received bullet wound in firing by the police and died the same day. Ram Singh: b. 1891: Received bullet 
wound in firing by an Army unit and died the same day. Chander Mal: Received bullet wound in firing by the police and died the same day. Seva Ram: Received bullet wound in firing by the police and died the same day. Swattin, son of Abdul Karim: Received bullet wound in firing by the police and died the same day.

•The Delhi firing was, as it were, a macabre rehearsal for what was to follow. And it was doubtless on Tagore’s mind when he wrote the letter to Gandhi. It was still in the post’s pipelines when, the next day, on April 13, 1919, his poetic vision was to find prescient corroboration. Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims gathered in Jallianwala Bagh, Amritsar, Punjab not to oppose Rowlatt but for a festival that marks the Sikh new year, Baisakhi. Its intent was totally un-political. But who is to say how arrogance will work?

On April 13, 1919

•What followed is now part of the world’s annals of state-led crime. Troops under the command of Brigadier General (temporary rank) Reginald Dyer entered the garden, blocking the main entrance after them, took up position on a raised bank, and on Dyer’s orders fired on the crowd for some ten minutes, minutes that were an eternity. They stopped only when the ammunition supply was almost exhausted. Official sources themselves gave a figure of 379 identified dead, with approximately 1,100 wounded. In those ten minutes Amritsar became India. It embodied a nation’s death-defying dignity in pain, hurt.

•Tagore was, at the time of the mowing down ‘Sir’ Rabindranath. And he had been a Nobel Laureate for Literature for six years. On May 30, 1919, Tagore picked up his pen, this time, not that of a Nobel Laureate but of a Knight of the British Empire, to write a letter to the Viceroy, Lord Chelmsford. “News of the sufferings,” he wrote, had “trickled through the gagged silence, reaching every corner of India”. He then said: “The time has come when badges of honour make our shame glaring in their incongruous context of humiliation... I for my part wish to stand, shorn of all special distinctions, by the side of my countrymen who, for their so-called insignificance, are liable to suffer a degradation not fit for human beings.” And he asked of the Viceroy, “relieve me of the title of knighthood”.

•Solidarity with suffering, especially when it is spontaneous, takes many forms. One is sharing by renunciation. Tagore’s self-divestment of the title, then perhaps the most coveted, of ‘Sir’ was an act of spontaneous solidarity with the suffering of Delhi, of Amritsar. And it was a chastisement, in Tagore’s words, of the “arrogance that scoffs at the power of spirit”.

•The martyrs of Jallianwala beckon this generation, all of us, including India and Indians, Pakistan and Pakistanis, Bangladesh and Bangladeshis, Myanmar and Myanmarese, not just Britain, to give human freedom respect, human beings dignity, human rights recognition. Looking around them at those slain — Hindu with Dalit among them, Sikh and Muslim — the martyrs of Jallianwala would want correction and atonement from those on the Indian subcontinent and beyond its boundaries, who today foment division, discord, disunity.

Enduring arrogance

•They also beckon us to see that “arrogance of power” is not a colonial or imperial patent, nor “the power of spirit” an attribute of liberation struggles alone. Arrogance can occur under post-colonial, post-imperial, ‘independent’ skies and can — must — summon the power of spirit.

•‘Rowlatt’ is a temperament that seeks domination, control, hegemony. It has the characteristics of the bully — strength and insecurity. Asia, Africa and Latin America have known that temperament in both the hubris of the external ruler, the hauteur of the one within. And they have seen peoples’ power dismantling both. Bowing to public opinion in India and in the U.K., the Raj repealed the Rowlatt Act, the Press Act, and 22 other laws in March 1922 – a victory of the people. The Rowlatt temperament is not a feature of governments alone. It works in society as well, keeping sections of it in a state of chronic enfeeblement. The Rowlatt temperament is also to be seen in corporate India seeking monopolist domination over its natural resources and public commons.

•This centenary of India’s rebuffing of the Rowlatt Act’s scowl through what Tagore called “the power of spirit” is one to be cherished, celebrated and be inspired by.

📰 Give info to ECI on each donor, each electoral bond in sealed covers: SC orders political parties

A Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi said the issue of electoral bonds and their lack of transparency is a "weighty" one and requires in-depth hearing.

•Refusing the government's advice to steer clear of the electoral bonds scheme of political funding, the Supreme Court on Friday passed interim directions, directing political parties to provide full information on each and every political donor and contributions made through electoral bonds in sealed cover to the Election Commission of India (ECI).

•A Bench led by Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi said the issue of electoral bonds and their lack of transparency was a "weighty" one and required in-depth hearing.

•The court ordered the political parties to start providing forthwith the Election Commission of India (ECI) with details of each donor, every electoral bond through which contribution was received and the amount received on each bond till date.

•Advocate Prashant Bhushan, representing petitioner NGO Association of Democratic Reforms, has argued that 95% of the payments through electoral bonds till date have been routed to the BJP. The ECI also submitted on Thursday that a lion's share of the contributions via electoral bonds had gone to the ruling party.

•The parties have been given time to provide all the details before May 30. The information is to be provided to the ECI in sealed covers. The poll body would keep them secure.

•The court said it did not want to "tilt the balance" in anyone's favour as of now. However, adequate safeguards needed to be taken now itself. The CJI said the final and detailed hearing in the case would take place later at an "appropriate" time.

•The court's directions comes a day after the government claimed that voters do not need to know where funds come to political parties from.

•The court cannot “kill” the electoral bonds scheme for the sake of transparency, Attorney-General K.K. Venugopaol had argued.

•Mr. Venugopal had submitted that electoral bonds scheme was an experiment to eradicate the evil of black money. The court should not intervene now.

•The government's position was starkly in contrast to the stand of the ECI.

•The ECI had submitted to the apex court that electoral bonds have legalised anonymity of political donors and the parties receiving contributions.

•The ECI had said the right to vote meant the right to make an informed choice. The Commission said knowing the candidate was only “half the exercise.” The voters should also know the source of funding of political parties who prop up these candidates. “It is more important to know the principal than the agent,” ECI counsel and senior advocate Rakesh Dwivedi had submitted.

•To this, Mr. Venugopal had countered on Thursday that “their contention is that voters have a right to know. Right to know what? Voters do not need to know where money of political parties comes from.”

•The AG said “transparency cannot be used as a mantra”. He said elections are being fuelled by black money, which is democracy’s greatest evil.

•Mr. Bhushan had pointed to how earlier there was anonymity in political funding through cash donations, and now, electoral bonds, allow anonymity in political funding through banking channels.

📰 A grim future in Israel

India needs to go beyond token homage to the cause of Palestinian freedom 

•With criminal indictment imminent on charges of corruption, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pulled off a fourth consecutive win in general elections to the Knesset on April 9. Though tied on seats with his main rival, Mr. Netanyahu has a clear pathway towards power in coalition with a bloc of right-wing allies. As with earlier wins, eked out by strongly running against counsels of sanity from the diminishing peace camp, he has pulled the political centre of gravity sharply, yet again, to the ultra-right.

Sources of support

•Two notable triumphs achieved against the tide of global opinion facilitated Mr. Netanyahu’s win. In securing these, he counted on the unquestioning — and unthinking — support of the Donald Trump administration in the U.S. and the reservoir of evangelical fervour from which it draws sustenance.

•Mr. Netanyahu’s opponents within Israel say that Mr. Trump effectively created a publicity video for him with a decree during the late days of the campaign, recognising Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights. This followed Mr. Trump’s gift on the 70th anniversary of Israel’s formation last year, shifting the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and consigning the Arab third of the city’s population to a future of indefinite occupation.

•The comatose peace process, which was never more than a charade enabling the U.S. to keep its coalition of allies in the Arab world, was declared dead then. Even Mahmoud Abbas, the normally acquiescent Palestinian Authority President, has refused all offers to resume talks since.

•Despite his professions of hurt innocence at the Palestinian refusal, Mr. Netanyahu has proved them right in every respect. In July 2018, the Knesset enacted a Basic Law declaring Israel the nation-state of the Jewish people. Jerusalem would be its indivisible capital and Hebrew its language. The right to self-determination within the state of Israel would by law be unique to the Jewish people.

•This is a law that puts the status of Israel’s 1.26 million Palestinian citizens and the estimated 5 million living in the West Bank and Gaza into a permanent limbo. It marks the final fruition of an effort that began in 2007, when the U.S. resumed its token effort to broker a peace after all efforts at re-engineering the regional strategic architecture, beginning with the invasion of Iraq, had failed.

•Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. Secretary of the State at the time, records her shock at the precondition set by her Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni, for returning to the talks. Under no circumstances, Ms. Livni insisted, would a peace accord grant any concession to the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, since that would be a mortal danger to Israel’s Jewish character.

•Ms. Rice took a while to get over the implications of what she heard: “Though I understood the argument intellectually, it struck me as a harsh defence of the ethnic purity of the Israeli state... [and] shocked my sensibilities as an American. After all, the very concept of ‘American’ rejects ethnic or religious definitions of citizenship. Moreover, there were Arab citizens of Israel. Where did they fit in?”

•The hesitancy was very brief since Ms. Rice quickly signed up for the project that had the endorsement of her right-wing fraternity in the U.S. After the George W. Bush administration vanished into history in 2008, Barack Obama sought to dissuade Israel from this insistence on ethnic purity. Mr. Trump, in his part-comical effort to be all that Mr. Obama was not, has waved on the project of Zionist purity. In tearing up the nuclear deal with Iran, Mr. Trump has also reversed other steps his predecessor took to create a new regional architecture of power through conciliation rather than coercion.

Strong campaign

•Mr. Netanyahu’s campaign rhetoric since his debut in politics was often called out for incitement against the Palestinians. He excelled himself this time, vowing in the last days of the campaign to never allow a Palestinian state and to annex parts of the West Bank.

•He is also on record telling Knesset colleagues that controlling the entire territory between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean is indispensable “for the foreseeable future”. And he has been unapologetic about “living forever by the sword” if that be Israel’s need.

•The people of Gaza have lived through this experience after the fraudulent Israeli withdrawal of 2005 which converted the densely populated strip into the world’s largest open air prison. March 30 marked a year since the people of Gaza began their “great march of return”, a mass mobilisation demanding the UN-mandated right of refugees to return home. No less than 70% of the 2 million people in Gaza are refugees from villages and towns razed to establish Israel.

•Israel responded to the Gaza mobilisation with brute force, killing nearly 300 people, including children and paramedics. After an inquiry, a UN Commission identified a pattern of violations of international humanitarian law, possibly amounting to war crimes, and urged individual sanctions against those responsible for Israel’s actions in Gaza.

The view from India

•India continues to be among the biggest overseas patrons of the Israeli military-industrial complex. Increasingly, in the public discourse, Israel is portrayed as the role model that a “new India” should emulate in terms of its security posture in a troubled neighbourhood. The cause of Palestinian freedom continues to gain token homage, but the myth that this commitment can be “de-hyphenated” from India’s relations with Israel looks increasingly hollow.

•A renewal of India’s commitment to Palestine should run concurrently with fighting back against the growing expressions of intolerance in political life and the shredding of the fabric of secular democracy. With Israel taking another perilous turn to the right, India’s endorsement of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, today the only option to gain justice for Palestine, seems a moral imperative.

📰 Not half-done: ensuring free and fair elections

Voter turnout remains high, but the ECI must be quicker in acting on code violations

•The first phase of voting on Thursday to elect the 17th Lok Sabha witnessed enthusiastic participation of voters in 91 Lok Sabha constituencies across 20 States and Union Territories. In this opening phase of a total of seven, the challenges in ensuring a free and fair poll, as well as the trend of high enthusiasm among voters, have been highlighted. The drive of the Election Commission of India against malpractices led, ahead of the first phase, to seizures worth ₹2,426 crore of cash, liquor, drugs and other items meant to unduly influence voters. The ECI’s decision to ban the release of a biopic on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and its order to stop the broadcast of political content on a TV channel meant for his propaganda were measures in the right direction. But the trail of serious violations of the Model Code of Conduct and the defiance of its previous directives by the ruling dispensation and Mr. Modi himself raise a lot of questions regarding the ECI’s effectiveness in being a neutral and fair arbiter. The questions regarding the integrity of the elections arising out of doubts about EVMs have been addressed with 100% Voter Verifiable Paper Audit Trails, followed by a Supreme Court-directed increase in their random counting rate from one machine to five per Assembly constituency/segment. But doubts arising out of the ECI’s conduct fall in a different category, and it needs to do more to reassure voters that the process is not vitiated by partisanship. The seemingly biased moves by Central agencies such as the Income Tax department targeting only Opposition leaders point to the possible misuse of office by the ruling party to target opponents. Mr. Modi’s appeal to voters in the name of soldiers — something the ECI had explicitly warned against — was unfortunate, as was the Commission’s failure to take prompt action. While the ECI must urgently respond to MCC violations, the government must act fairly.

•Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim and parts of Odisha also voted to elect their State Assemblies. Tripura and West Bengal topped in turnout, with 81.8% and 81%, respectively. This is the first general election with VVPATs attached to all EVMs. According to the ECI, 1.7% of VVPATs, 0.73% of the ballot units and 0.61% of the control units of EVMs had to be replaced on Thursday. Stray incidents of violence were reported in Andhra Pradesh, but in Jammu and Kashmir the polling went relatively peacefully. In the Jammu constituency 72% polling was recorded, while in the Valley’s Baramulla constituency the figure was 35%, marginally lower than the 2014 figures. Isolated complaints regarding mismanagement arose in some parts, but by and large the first phase went on well, and upheld India’s reputation in managing what is the world’s largest democratic exercise. It is going to be a long summer.

📰 Narendra Modi to get Russia’s highest civilian award

•Russia announced on Friday that President Vladimir Putin will confer its highest civilian award, the “Order of the Holy Apostle Andrew the First,” on Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his work on bilateral ties.

•“The order was presented to the Prime Minister of India for his distinguished contribution to the development of a privileged strategic partnership between Russia and India and friendly ties between the Russian and Indian peoples,” a statement from Mr. Putin’s office read.

‘Source of strength’

•Thanking Mr. Putin for the honour, Mr. Modi said cooperation between India and Russia had led to “to extraordinary outcomes for our citizens.”

•“President Putin remains a source of great strength for the India-Russia friendship. Under his visionary leadership, bilateral and multilateral cooperation between our nations has scaled new heights,” he added.

•The Order of the Holy Apostle Andrew the First is awarded to prominent government and public figures, prominent representatives of science, culture, art and various sectors of the economy for “exceptional services that contribute to the prosperity, greatness and glory of Russia,” according to the official website. It was first awarded by former Russian Tsar ‘Peter the Great’ in 1698 and subsequently discontinued. In 1998, former President Boris Yeltsin reinstated the honour by a presidential decree.

•Previous recipients include Chinese President Xi Jinping, and presidents of Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and author Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

‘Timing suspect’

•According to former diplomats who spoke to The Hindu, the timing of the Russian award is unusual, as it was announced after the general elections began in India on April 11. Last week, while the campaign period was in full swing, the United Arab Emirates announced the Sheikh Zayed award for Mr. Modi as well, which had also raised eyebrows as any statement by a foreign government during the election period is seen as an interference in domestic processes, said the diplomats, who preferred not to be named. Prime Minister Imran Khan’s comments earlier this week that India-Pakistan ties would fare better if the incumbent BJP were to win the elections, rather than if the Opposition Congress party did, were also seen in a similar vein. According to established practice, an international award such as this one is only announced once the recipient’s government indicates its acceptance.

•When asked about the timing, a Russian embassy official said that the decision to confer the award had been made earlier, but all the “necessary documents and procedures were finalised only now.” A government official here said the MEA does not look at “the timing, but only the credentials of the individual” when awarding foreigners and in the same way it cannot dictate to other governments when the award should be announced.

•Welcoming the award from Russia, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said this was the sixth international award for PM Modi in five years, and came in “recognition of India-Russia’s true Druzhba-Dosti [friendship].”

📰 Malaysia approves Chinese project after price is slashed

The East Coast Rail Link is expected to cost $11 billion

•China on Friday agreed to cut by a third the cost of a rail project in Malaysia, a move that seemed to acknowledge mounting international scepticism about its continent-spanning infrastructure programme.

•Malaysian officials announced a new agreement with China Communications Construction Co., a state-owned company, that would allow the rail project to go forward, nearly a year after the Malaysian government suspended it.

•The project, meant to connect ports on Malaysia’s east and west coasts, is now expected to cost $11 billion, roughly two-thirds of the most recent projected price tag of $16 billion. The earlier estimates had caused consternation within Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s administration.

•“This reduction will surely benefit Malaysia and lighten the burden on the country’s financial position,” Mr. Mahathir’s office said on Friday. The project, known as the East Coast Rail Link, became a political lightning rod after Mr. Mahathir used its cost as an issue on his way to winning the election last year.

Ambitious plan

•China’s Belt and Road Initiative, of which the Malaysian project is one element, is an ambitious plan spearheaded by Chinese President Xi Jinping to connect economies across Asia, Africa and Europe. But it has also become a symbol of the sometimes high cost of projects that China uses to bolster its influence abroad.

•Some of the early Belt and Road projects have come under scrutiny. China brought in its own workers and provided engineering expertise, but its financial support often took the form of huge loans to local governments.

•In recent months, Chinese officials have to some extent put the brakes on the initiative, amid allegations of overspending and corruption in countries like Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

•At a news conference on Friday at the Malaysian Embassy in Beijing, Daim Zainuddin, a special envoy, confirmed the new agreement and said the savings from the new deal would be enough to build two more Petronas Twin Towers, a landmark in Kuala Lumpur. He said Mr. Mahathir would disclose more details on Monday.

📰 Taliban declare start of spring offensive amid talks with US

The Taliban now hold sway over half the country after a relentless 17-year war, America’s longest.

•The Taliban announced on Friday the start of their spring offensive despite talking peace with the United States and ahead of a significant gathering of Afghans meant to discuss resolutions to the protracted war and an eventual withdrawal of American troops from the country.

•The insurgents released a lengthy missive in five languages, including English, saying the fighting would continue while foreign forces remain in Afghanistan.

•The announcement is something the militant group does every year, even though Taliban attacks never really ceased during the harsh winter months. The insurgents carry out daily attacks targeting Afghan security forces and NATO troops, and inflicting staggering casualties, including among civilians. Most recently, a Taliban attack near the main U.S. air base in Afghanistan killed three Marines on Monday.

•The Taliban now hold sway over half the country after a relentless 17-year war, America’s longest.

•Friday’s announcement instructs the Taliban mujahedeen, or holy warriors, to “launch jihadi operations with sincerity and pure intentions,” strictly abiding by the Taliban command structure. It also urges fighters to avoid civilian casualties.

•The U.N.’s annual report earlier this year said civilian deaths hit a record high last year, blaming the insurgents and other militants, such as the Islamic State group, though it also noted an uptick in civilian casualties from U.S. bombing raids, most often in aid of Afghan troops on the ground.

•Still, preparations are underway for Afghan-to-Afghan talks starting next week in Qatar, where the Taliban have a political office.

•In Kabul, the Afghan High Peace Council, a government body created years ago to talk peace with anti-government forces, condemned the Taliban announcement, saying it brought into question the insurgents sincerity in seeking a peaceful end to the war.

•Atta-u-Rahman Saleim, a council deputy, told over the phone that it undermines the credibility of the Taliban.

•“They are insisting on war,” he said. “We can see this every day.”

•U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who has escalated efforts to find a peaceful end to the war since his appointment last year, has been urging the Taliban to accept a cease-fire and hold talks directly with the Kabul government, something the insurgents refuse to do. The Taliban, who see the Afghan government as a U.S. puppet, say they will talk to Kabul officials at the upcoming Qatar meeting only as “ordinary Afghans” and not as government representatives.

📰 Manufacturing crashes to a 20-month low

•Industrial growth slowed in February to 0.1%, driven by an across-the-board slowdown, while consumer inflation quickened in March, according to the latest official data.

•Growth in the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) slowed in February, from 1.44% in January.

•Within the Index, mining and quarrying saw growth slowing to 2% from 3.92% over the same period.

•Manufacturing saw a contraction of 0.31% in February from a 1.05% growth in January.

Separate data

•Separate data showed that retail inflation, as measured by the consumer price index (CPI), quickened to a 5-month high in March to 2.86%, driven by the food and fuel sectors.

•This compares with 2.57% inflation in February.

•Inflation levels in all the other segments of the CPI came in lower in March, however.

•Inflation in the pan and tobacco segment clocked 4.61% in March against 5.49% in February. Clothing and footwear saw a deceleration as well, at 2.59% compared with 2.73%.

📰 Display information on 7 common antibiotics: Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation

CDSCO sends letter to manufacturers

•Alerted by the Union Health Ministry’s pharmaceutical watchdog, the National Co-ordination Centre of the Pharmacovigilance Programme of India (PvPI), on adverse reactions that were being reported from some commonly-used antibiotics, the Central Drugs Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) has now asked manufacturers to ensure that this information be made available to the general public.

•CDSCO has written to drug manufacturers, to mention in leaflets inserted into drug packets or on promotional literature, information about the adverse reactions of these medicines. All of the seven formulations — antibiotics Cefotaxime, Ofloxacin and Cefixime; Tranexamic Acid, used to control bleeding; antipsychotic drug Quetiapine; anti-rheumatoid drug Sulfasalazine and the anti-epileptic medicine Sodium Valproate — have been instructed to warn patients of the “new” side effects. The letter was sent out by CDSCO on April 9.

•Speaking about the decision, Eswara Reddy, the Drug Controller General of India and head of the CDSCO said: “We were alerted to this adverse reaction last year and, after talks with the Ministry and the PvPI, the decision was taken to write to all State authorities to ask manufactures to include this information on the packaging itself. The idea is to ensure that doctors and users are aware of the adverse reactions.”

Additional reaction

•“All zonal and sub-zonal officers have been instructed to direct the manufacturers of these formulations to mention the additional reaction in the package insert or promotional literature of the drug,” notes the letter sent the State Drug Controllers.

•The Union Health Ministry was alerted about the adverse reactions last year in August.

•Antibiotic Cefixime is used to treat a wide variety of bacterial infections and is known to have adverse reactions, including pain, diarrhoea, nausea and headaches.

📰 Seeing darkness: the first image of a black hole

The first image of a black hole is a reassurance of science and reason

•On April 10, the Event Horizon Telescope collaboration showed the world the ‘unseeable’: the very first image of a black hole. Of course, the black hole itself cannot be seen, because light cannot escape its intense gravitational attraction. The so-called event horizon that envelops the black hole is the point of no return and any object transgressing this boundary is lost. Just outside is a region where a photon (light quantum) can orbit the black hole without falling in. This is called the ‘last photon ring’, and this is what the EHT imaged, seeing in effect the silhouette of a black hole. About a hundred years after the black hole made its way into physics through Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, soon after the LIGO collaboration first directly observed the gravitational waves made by the merging of two black holes, the ‘dark star’ had finally been imaged. The Higgs boson was detected 50 years after it had been postulated, and gravitational waves were observed a century after Einstein predicted them. Visual proof of the existence of black holes comes a century after they appeared in scientific literature. In a collaborative effort, eight telescopes around the world were used for the experiment. The challenges included making each observe the same broad range of wavelengths around 1.3 mm and having precise atomic clocks at each location, so the data could be combined.

•A black hole marks the end of spacetime as commonly understood, and nothing that enters it can escape from the tremendous gravitational attraction. However, this is no real danger, as black holes are located at distances that humans do not have the power to scale. The EHT set out to image two candidate supermassive black holes — Sagittarius A*, which is 26,000 light years from the earth, at the centre of the Milky Way, and another which is 55 million light years away at the centre of the Messier 87 galaxy in the Virgo galaxy cluster. But the first image was of the more distant one. The very long baseline interferometry technique linked radio dishes of telescopes across the world to produce a virtual telescope the size of the earth. This was needed to obtain the high resolution required for this measurement. Combining data from telescopes, each with different characteristics, was a separate challenge. Cutting-edge developments from computer science related to image recognition were used. As Katie Bouman, Assistant Professor at the California Institute of Technology, who led the efforts to develop an algorithm to put the data together and create the image, said in a TEDx talk, projects such as the EHT succeed owing to interdisciplinary expertise that people bring to the table. This experiment endorses the diversity of collaboration just as much as it does unrelenting patience and good faith in the power of science and reason.

📰 Industrial growth declines to 20-month low, inflation up

Costlier food and fuel spur retail inflation to 5-month high

•Industrial growth slowed in February to 0.1%, driven by an across-the-board slowdown, especially in key sectors like manufacturing, mining, capital goods, and infrastructure, according to latest official data.

•Separate data showed that retail inflation quickened in March to 2.86% from 2.57% in February, driven in large part by the food and fuel sectors.

•Growth in the Index of Industrial Production (IIP) slowed in February from 1.44% in January.

•Within the Index, the mining and quarrying sector saw growth slowing to 2% from 3.92% over the same period.

•The manufacturing sector saw a contraction of 0.31% in February from 1.05% in January.

•“The IIP data broadly indicates the slowing down of the economy, which was reflected in the quarterly GDP data,” said D.K. Srivastava, chief policy advisor, EY India.“The outlook should be thought of in terms of stimulating investment demand in the economy through monetary and fiscal measures,” he said.

•“On the monetary side, steps have been taken through two successive rate cuts by the Reserve Bank of India,” Mr. Srivastava added. “On the fiscal side, however, the prospects were limited because both direct and indirect tax revenue collections have shown a shortfall compared to the revised estimates. So, in order to meet the 3.4% fiscal deficit target, it appears the government has gone in for curtailing expenditure in general, and capital expenditure in specific.”

Capital goods contract

•The capital goods sector continued its contraction in February, contracting 8.84% compared with a contraction of 3.42% in the previous month.

•Growth in the infrastructure sector slowed to 2.38% from 6.8%.

•The electricity sector was the only sector that saw an acceleration in growth, coming in at 1.18% in February compared with a growth of 0.94% . The consumer non-durables sector also saw growth quickening, to 4.3% from 3.33% over the same period.

CPI inflation

•Retail inflation, as measured by the consumer price index (CPI), quickened in March to a five-month high due to a speeding up of inflation in the food and fuel sectors. Inflation in the food and beverages segment of the CPI quickened to 0.66% in March compared with a contraction of 0.07% in February.

•“Inflation is still well below the average threshold of 4% and food prices have just turned positive, and vegetable prices are much less negative than the trend,” Mr. Srivastava added.“This is okay, because we can allow inflation to go up marginally as long as food prices are within control,” he added.

•Inflation levels in all the other segments of the CPI came in lower, however. Inflation in the pan and tobacco segment came in at 4.61% in March compared with 5.49% in February. The rate of price rise slowed in the clothing and footwear segment as well, coming in at 2.59% compared with 2.73% over the same period.