The HINDU Notes – 07th May 2019 - VISION

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Tuesday, May 07, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 07th May 2019

📰 Sabarimala revamp plans still remain in paper

Unlikely that the basic amenities at the hill shrine would get any better this year too

•The pilgrims are unlikely to get more amenities at Sabarimala and in the foothills of Pampa during the upcoming pilgrim season. Blame it all on the delay in getting the various development projects going.

•Travancore Devaswom Board president A. Padmakumar told The Hindu that certain key consultants in the technical committee attached to the High Power Committee (HPC) for implementing the Sabarimala Master Plan projects were creating avoidable hitches to the development works initiated by the board.

•Mr Padmakumar said the TDB could not even clear the heavy sand deposit accumulated in the flood-ravaged foothills of Pampa due to objections raised by the Forest department, disregarding the decision taken in this matter at a high-level meeting convened by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan earlier.

•The TDB chief said he would meet the Chief Minister on Tuesday and apprise him of the sorry state of affairs at Sabarimala due to the alleged irresponsible attitude and vested interests of certain HPC technical committee members. There were instances when certain technical committee members undertook projects passed by the HPC. Such an unethical situation should never be permitted, he said.

•Mr Padmakumar said revamping of the existing technical committee was a must for the smooth and scientific execution of various development projects at Sabarimala as well as its base camps.

Many works remain a non-starter

•Though the TDB and the Chief Minister had clearly stated that the development projects at Sabarimala would be launched as soon as the Makaravilakku pilgrim season ended in January, the major and minor projects that were announced earlier still remain a non-starter.

•The work on the Prasadom Complex is yet to begin, as the Forest department has failed to give the necessary nod to fell a tree at the proposed site. The fate of the ‘Bhasmakkulam’ renovation and construction of the new ‘Tantri Madhom,’ too, is not much different.

•Though the TDB had promised to start the much sought-after new bridge across the Pampa, linking the Pampa Hilltop with the Ganapati temple premises, not even preliminary steps have been taken for the same as on this date.

•The annual Mandalam-Makaravilakku pilgrim season will begin in mid-November. And with the monsoon in the offing, carrying out construction work will be difficult task in the forest terrain of Sabarimala and Pampa at least for the next few months. The board’s promise to provide more toilet and retiring facility in an eco-friendly manner at Sabarimala and Pampa is most likely to remain on paper.

📰 Justice Bobde panel gives clean chit to CJI in sexual harassment probe

My worst fears have come true, says complainant

•The Justice S.A. Bobde in-house committee has found “no substance” in the sexual harassment allegations levelled by a former Supreme Court staff member against Chief Justice of India Ranjan Gogoi.

•A statement issued by the Supreme Court on Monday evening said the committee’s report would be kept confidential. As part of the in-house procedure, the report would not be placed in the public domain, the court added.

•It said copies of the report were given to Chief Justice Gogoi and the “next senior judge competent to receive the report”, that is Justice Arun Mishra who is the fourth seniormost judge.

•Justice Ramana, the third seniormost judge, was not handed the report as he had recused from the committee following allegations raised by the woman about his proximity to Chief Justice Gogoi.

•Official sources in the Supreme Court said the report would go no further than Justice Mishra and Chief Justice Gogoi. There would be no Full Court meeting on the contents of the “informal” proceedings.

•The inquiry was by nature purely preliminary, ad hoc and only for the purpose of getting information. The report was “wholly confidential” and existed “only for the purpose of satisfaction that such a report has been made”.

‘Highly disappointed’

•“Today, my worst fears have come true, and all hope of justice and redress from the highest court of the land has been shattered. In fact, the committee has announced that I will not even be provided a copy of the report, and so I have no way of comprehending the reasons and basis for the summary dismissal of my complaint of sexual harassment and victimisation,” the former Supreme Court staffer reacted.

•The complainant said she was “highly disappointed and dejected” to learn that the in-house committee had found no substance in her complaint.

•The Supreme Court on Monday quoted its reported decision of 2003 in Indira Jaising versus Supreme Court of India, which had held that an in-house inquiry report was “discreet” and “not for the purpose of disclosure to any other person”.

•The 2003 decision, however, does not contemplate a situation when the Chief Justice of India is himself under inquiry as in this case.

•The panel report comes amidst stories published in the media of dissent in the highest judiciary about the manner of the committee proceedings.

•In a similar statement on Sunday, the Secretary General clarified that the Justice Bobde Committee deliberates on its own without taking any “inputs” from other apex court judges.

Fears for family

•The complainant said she had no information about others whom the committee examined as witnesses or whether the call records of the CJI or the Supreme Court Secretary General was even called for.

•She wondered whether the police officer who allegedly took her to the CJI’s residence where she apologised to the top judge’s wife in a “humiliating manner” was examined at all.

•She said she was “extremely scared and terrified”.

•“I and my family members remain vulnerable to the ongoing reprisals and attack,” she said. The woman said she would consult her lawyers on the future course of action.

📰 SC dismisses plea on traffic restriction in J&K

‘Effective only till the end of May 2019’

•The Supreme Court on Monday dismissed a plea challenging the Jammu and Kashmir government’s order restricting civilian traffic for a day in a week on a stretch of the National Highway from Udhampur to Baramulla for the movement of security forces.

•The State government’s counsel told the Bench comprising Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Deepak Gupta that the order restricting civilian traffic was passed due to the ongoing election and will remain in force till May 31.

•“Additional Solicitor General appearing for the State of Jammu and Kashmir submits that the closure of the highway as on date is for one day in a week, i.e., Wednesday. Additional Solicitor General has further submitted that the said closure will be effective only till the end of May 2019,” the Bench noted in its order.

•“Taking into account the reasons that have prompted the State to order for the closure of the highway which is restricted to one day in the week, we are not inclined to keep this petition pending any longer,” the Bench said and disposed of the plea.

•The State government had issued an order on April 3 in which it said that no civilian traffic movement will be allowed on the NH stretch from 4 a.m. to 5 p.m. twice a week.

📰 Sushma Swaraj, Shah Mehmood Qureshi to attend SCO meet

There is no proposal for the External Affairs Minister and Pakistan’s Foreign Minister to meet separately

•External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi will attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Council of Foreign Ministers in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, later this month, for the first time since a proposed meeting between them in New York last September was cancelled.

•The two-day meeting, concluding on May 22, a day ahead of the announcement of the Lok Sabha election result, assumes significance ahead of the planned heads of government meeting, also in Bishkek on June 14 and 15. This meeting is expected to be attended by the newly appointed Prime Minister and his Pakistani counterpart, Imran Khan.

•Officials in New Delhi and Islamabad confirmed that both Foreign Ministers were “scheduled to attend”, but said there was no proposal for them to meet separately. The SCO summit meet in June will also come just ahead of a plenary session of the Financial Action Task Force in Orlando, U.S., from June 16 to 21, which will deliberate on Pakistan’s grey-listing status on terror financing.

•On Monday, in an interview, BJP general secretary Ram Madhav called for Pakistan to take action against terror, setting off speculation that preparations are being made within the government on the possibility of a meeting between Indian and Pakistani Prime Ministers in June.

•“Three weeks after the results, we have the SCO [summit meeting],” Mr. Madhav told the Bloomberg news agency. “At the SCO, Prime Minister Imran Khan and Prime Minister Modi will be face-to-face. It’s an opportunity for Pakistan. If something credible comes out in the next one month or so, before the SCO happens, I am sure the relationship will have some improvement. But the onus is on them now,” he added.

•Fuelling speculation, a Pakistani newspaper, The News, reported on Monday that the Pakistan government has “informally conveyed to India through China and Russia that the opportunity” of the SCO summit “could be utilised for a bilateral meeting between them”.

•An External Affairs Ministry official said it was “too early” to speak about the meeting of the Prime Ministers, and India’s decision to engage with Pakistan was linked to action on terror.

Post UN listing

•In the wake of the UN Security Council designation of Masood Azhar, New Delhi is watching closely to see what action Pakistan takes against the JeM chief.

•The action will also decide whether Pakistan, which is facing a full financial scrutiny by the FATF, could be put on an even more restrictive “blacklist” at the Orlando meeting, which Finance Minister Arun Jaitley called for on Friday.

•Pakistan protested Mr. Jaitley’s statement, calling it an attempt to “politicise” FATF proceedings.

•Dialogue between India and Pakistan has been called off since the Pathankot attack in January 2016. After the Uri attack in September 2016, India also called off its engagement with Pakistan at the SAARC summit, and tensions between the two countries have been at an all-time high since the Pulwama attack in February this year, and airstrikes on Balakot by the Indian Airforce.

•Since then, Pakistan has closed its airspace to flights from India, which has led to crores of Rupees in losses for airlines with several flights cancelled due to the long re-routes involved.

•Meanwhile, Indian and Pakistani talks over the pending Kartarpur Saheb corridor have also stalled due to India’s concerns over the inclusion of Khalistani separatists in the Gurudwara committee, and any engagement between the two countries at the SCO will be seen as a significant step.

📰 Discom debt to return to pre-UDAY levels

State-owned power generation firms have to become commercially viable: Crisil

•Aggregate external debt of State-owned electricity distribution companies (discoms) is set to increase to pre-Ujwal Discom Assurance Yojana (UDAY) levels of ₹2.6 lakh crore by the end of this fiscal, according to Crisil’s analysis of discoms in 15 States, which account for 85% of the aggregate losses.

•With most States having limited fiscal headroom, continuous financial support to their discoms may be difficult. So discoms have to become commercially viable through prudent tariff hikes and a material reduction in aggregate technical and commercial (AT&C) losses, said the Crisil statement.

•As per the MoUs States had signed under UDAY in fiscal 2016, their discoms were to initiate structural reforms by reducing AT&C losses by 900 basis points (bps) to about 15% in fiscal 2019, and also implement regular tariff hikes of 5-6% per annum. In lieu, State governments took over three-fourths of discom debt, thus reducing the interest cost burden. While discoms enjoyed the benefit of debt reduction, structural reforms have been slow to come by.

•For instance, AT&C losses reduced by only 400 bps by December 2018 from pre-UDAY levels and the average tariff increase were a paltry 3% per annum.

‘Potential for losses’

•“Further improvement in operations may face challenges because the focus on new rural connections without adequate tariff hikes can increase losses,” said Subodh Rai, senior director, Crisil Ratings.

•“Add to that the funding needs for budgeted capital expenditure, and the external debt of discoms would balloon to about ₹2.6 lakh crore by the end of fiscal 2020.” That arithmetic is based on the assumption of average tariff increase of 2%, and partial funding of losses through State grants.

📰 NGT seeks report on ‘illegal’ road in tiger reserve

Forms panel of representatives from various departments to look into it

•The National Green Tribunal on Monday constituted a committee, drawing representatives from various departments including Wildlife and PWD, to provide it a factual report on alleged illegal construction of a road for use by commercial vehicles in the ecologically sensitive Rajaji Tiger Reserve in Uttarakhand.

•A petition filed by advocate Gaurav Kumar Bansal said the road is being built in the tiger reserve without statutory clearances and requisite safeguards. Mr. Bansal said the construction of the road may potentially damage the biological diversity and resources of the reserve.

•His plea claimed that the Uttarakhand government on March 1, 2017, without considering the negative impact on the biodiversity-rich stretch, opened the Laldang-Chillarkhal road in the reserve for commercial vehicles.

•And hence, it said, the “State of Uttarakhand completely lost its vision with regard to their duty for the protection of ecology, biodiversity of the said area.”

•A Bench headed by NGT Chairperson Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel formed the committee comprising representatives of the Ministry of Environment and Forests, Uttarakhand Public Works Department and National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA).

•“The issue raised in this application relates to ex-situ conservation and in-situ conservation methods for protection of biodiversity and biological resources of Laldhang-Chillarkhal buffer area of Rajaji Tiger Reserve, Uttarakhand,” the Bench said.

3-month deadline

•It said it is necessary to seek a factual and action-taken report from the joint committee before considering the matter further. The report has to be furnished within three months by email.

•The NTCA will be the nodal agency for compliance and coordination.

•The matter was posted for further hearing on August 13.

•Mr. Bansal’s plea also mentions that the NTCA on March 14, after learning that the Uttarakhand government carried on with the construction of the road without taking statutory clearance, sent a letter to Chief Wildlife Warden (Uttarakhand) and sought factual information on the case.

•The petition said there already is a closure order from District Forest Officer of Lansdowne against the construction of the Laldhang-Chillarkhal road.

📰 Over 300 nests of grizzled giant squirrel spotted near Gingee

The species is usually known to nest only in Western Ghats

•For the first time, researchers have sighted nests of the grizzled giant squirrel, an endangered species listed under Schedule I of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 at Pakkamalai Reserve Forests near Gingee in the Eastern Ghats.

•The grizzled giant squirrel is usually known to nest in the Western Ghats in Southern India ranging from Chinnar Wildlife sanctuary in Kerala to Anamalai Tiger Reserve and Palani hills in Tamil Nadu. Owing to habitat loss and poaching, the species has been categorised as near threatened by the Red List and listed under Schedule II of CITES.

•A team of researchers and wildlife activists from Indigenous Biodiversity Foundation (IBF), a non-profit organisation were conducting a survey in the Pakkamalai Reserve Forests near Gingee when they spotted grizzled giant squirrels. Over 300 nests of the endangered species were spotted by the group.

•K. Raman of IBF said that the group had earlier spotted a pair of squirrels while trekking through the Pakkamalai Reserve Forests in 2016.

•“We had photographed an individual but it disappeared among the trees. But this was the first time we spotted as many as 363 nests in the reserve based on grid mapping. The sighting of the squirrels was surprising as it had previously not been recorded. While nests were also spotted in adjoining Anandapuram Reserve, a majority of the nests were found only in Pakkamalai,” he said.

Appeal to government

•Several diverse and endangered species including the Golden Gecko, Bamboo Pit Viper and Mouse Deer have also been spotted in the Pakkamalai Reserve Forests. The government should immediately declare the forests as a sanctuary for the grizzled giant squirrel, he said.

•The grizzled giant squirrel have earlier been spotted in Tiruvannamalai Forest Division in 2014, which was the only recorded sighting from this region in the Eastern Ghats.

•Mr. Raman said that so far there has been no detailed study on why these squirrels frequent the Eastern Ghats. A detailed study is required to understand its distribution across the region. Habitat loss coupled with hunting for its fur and bushmeat by the locals are said to be the major threats to this species, he added.

📰 40% of amphibian species, more than a third of all marine mammals threatened: UN report

Known as the Global Assessment, the report found that up to one million of Earth’s estimated eight million plant, insect and animal species is at risk of extinction, many within decades.

•Relentless pursuit of economic growth, twinned with the impact of climate change, has put an ”unprecedented” one million species at risk of extinction, scientists said on Monday in a landmark report on the damage done by modern civilisation to the natural world.

•Only a wide-ranging transformation of the global economic and financial system could pull ecosystems that are vital to the future of human communities worldwide back from the brink of collapse, concluded the report, which was endorsed by 130 countries, including the U.S., Russia and China.

•“The essential, interconnected web of life on Earth is getting smaller and increasingly frayed,” said Professor Josef Settele, who co-chaired the study, launched in Paris on Monday by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). “This loss is a direct result of human activity and constitutes a direct threat to human well-being in all regions of the world.”

145 authors, 50 countries

•Compiled by 145 expert authors from 50 countries, the study is a cornerstone of an emerging body of research that suggests the world may need to embrace a new “post-growth” form of economics if it is to avert the existential risks posed by the mutually-reinforcing consequences of pollution, habitat destruction and carbon emissions.

•Known as the Global Assessment, the report found that up to one million of Earth’s estimated eight million plant, insect and animal species is at risk of extinction, many within decades.

•The authors identified industrial farming and fishing as major drivers with the current rate of species extinction tens to hundreds of times higher than the average over the last 10 million years. Climate change caused by burning the coal, oil and gas produced by the fossil fuel industry is exacerbating the losses, the report found. Robert Watson, a British environmental scientist who chairs the IPBES, said it would be possible to start conserving, restoring and using nature sustainably only if societies were prepared to confront “vested interests” committed to preserving the status quo.

•“The report also tells us that it is not too late to make a difference, but only if we start now at every level from local to global,” Mr. Watson said in a statement. “By transformative change, we mean a fundamental, system-wide reorganisation across technological, economic and social factors, including paradigms, goals and values.”

•The report’s blunt language echoed the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which said in October that profound economic and social changes would be needed to curb greenhouse gases quickly enough to avert the most devastating consequences of a warming world.

•The findings will also add to pressure for countries to agree bold action to protect wildlife at a major conference on biodiversity due to take place in China towards the end of next year.

3-year review

•The Global Assessment contained a litany of estimates made after a three-year review of some 15,000 scientific papers that showed the profound impact of the rise of a globalised industrial society on the planet over the past half century.

•Combining wide-ranging disciplines to measure how the loss of the natural world affects human societies, the report identified a range of risks, from the disappearance of insects vital for pollinating food crops, to the destruction of coral reefs that support fish populations that sustain coastal communities, or the loss of medicinal plants. The report found that the average abundance of native species in most major land-based habitats has fallen by at least 20%, mostly since 1900.

•The threatened list includes more than 40% of amphibian species, almost 33% of reef-forming corals, and more than a third of all marine mammals. The picture was less clear for insect species, but a tentative estimate suggests 10% are at risk of extinction. “We have been running from one frontier to another frontier trying to find cheap nature (to exploit) in every corner of the planet,” said Eduardo Brondizio, a professor of anthropology at Indiana University in the United States who co-chaired the Global Assessment. “The key message: business as usual has to end.”

📰 Scientists carry out genetic study on people of Lakshadweep Islands

Ancestry largely derived from South Asia with minor influences from elsewhere

•Lakshadweep is an archipelago of 36 islands, scattered over approximately 78,000 square km of the Arabian Sea, 200-440 kms off the south-western coast of India, with population of approximately 65,000. However, the first human settlement of this archipelago is not clear.

•The islands were known to sailors since ancient times and historical documents say that the spread of Buddhism to these islands happened during 6th century B.C., Islam in 661 A.D. by Arabians. Cholas ruled the islands in 11th century, Portuguese in 16th century, Ali Rajahs in 17th, Tipu Sultan in 18th before the British Raj of 19th century.

•Genetic studies done on the people of the archipelago by a team, led by K. Thangaraj at CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB), for the first time have shown that a majority of human ancestry in Lakshadweep is largely derived from South Asia with minor influences from East and West Eurasia. And, there was no evidence of early human migration through the Lakshadweep islands.

Early migration

•“The islands are located between Africa and southwestern part of India. Through our earlier studies we know that early human migration from Africa to Andaman and Australia happened through western coast of India. So, we presumed that Lakshadweep Islands might have played a major role in early human migration and expected the presence of genetic signatures of ancient people, such as Andamanese and Australian aboriginals,” said Dr. Thangaraj, chief scientist at CCMB and a lead author of the study.

•DNA samples of 557 individuals from eight major islands for mitochondrial DNA and 166 individuals for Y chromosome markers were analysed.

•“We found a strong founder effect for both paternal and maternal lineages — a sign that the island population had limited genetic mixing”, said M. S. Mustak, first author of the study and associate professor of Department of Applied Zoology, Mangalore University.

•The authors have studied the major islands of Agatti, Andorth, Bitra, Chetlat, Kadmat, Kalpeni, Kiltan and Minicoy of Lakshadweep and demonstrated a close genetic link of Lakshadweep islanders with people from Maldives, Sri Lanka and India.

•“Even after regular historic interactions with people from different regions of the world, it is extremely interesting that we could see only limited number of founders,” said Gyaneshwer Chaubey, another author and professor at Banaras Hindu University.

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