The HINDU Notes – 15th May 2019 - VISION

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Thursday, May 16, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 15th May 2019






πŸ“° U.S. curbs: India to decide on Iran crude imports after polls

Foreign Minister Zarif’s visit to update Delhi on developments in Persian Gulf

•India will take a call on the purchase of Iranian energy after the general elections, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj told her Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif here on Tuesday.

•The discussions come in the backdrop of escalating tensions in the Gulf after the U.S. waivers for supply of Iranian energy ended on May 2, prompting Tehran to declare that it would no longer be bound by the 2015 nuclear deal.

•“On purchase of oil from Iran, External Affairs Minister reiterated the position that a decision will be taken after the elections keeping in mind our commercial considerations, energy security and economic interests,” said a source familiar with the discussion held between the two sides at the Jawaharlal Nehru Bhavan here.

Rising tensions

•The Indian side said the visit of the Foreign Minister was undertaken “at his own initiative” to update about the developments in the Gulf region where tension escalated over the weekend as incidents of sabotage were reported in Saudi Arabia. Tehran, meanwhile, indicated that it would leave the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that was agreed upon during the second tenure of U.S. President Barack Obama.

•Following Tuesday’s meeting, Mr. Zarif had described the talks he held in India and Turkmenistan as “excellent”.

•“Those who actually live in our fragile neighbourhood have a real national security interest in promoting peace, stability, cooperation and connectivity. Iran remains a most accessible, sustainable and secure partner,” he said in a social media message after meeting Ms. Swaraj.

•Indicating continued energy trade, Mr. Zarif had told reporters that Tehran and New Delhi have devised plans to ensure supply. “The two sides have designed a special financial system to augment trade and economic cooperation,” the Minister said. However, India has not announced any such plans as yet.

•The visiting minister also informed India that as per the announcement of President Hassan Rouhani, Iran has given a 60-day timeline to the EU-3 and other parties to the nuclear deal for restoring oil and banking channels. As part of the JCPOA, Iran was required to sell its surplus enriched uranium abroad, rather than store it inside the country. Mr. Rouhani had declared on May 8 that Iran would not keep this part of the promise after U.S. withdrew from the deal.

•Ms. Swaraj conveyed India’s position on the critical nuclear deal that had restored banking and trade rights to Tehran after decades, and urged the stakeholders to resolve differences peacefully.

•“India would like all parties to the agreement to continue to fulfill their commitments and all parties should engage constructively and resolve all issues peacefully and through dialogue,” the source said.

πŸ“° WTO: India moots ‘unbiased’ assessment of trade policies

‘The existing system, developedby OECD, has flaws’

•India is trying to rally the support of other developing countries in the World Trade Organisation to reform the “biased” system of assessing a country’s services trade policies, according to an official closely associated with the development.

•The existing system, developed by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), has significant quantitative and qualitative flaws, said Manoj Pant, Director of the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, and author of the study commissioned by the Ministry of Commerce. Further, it is biased towards developed countries, he said. The study also found that the OECD method resulted in several counter-intuitive results as compared with the real policies implemented by the countries in question, such as ranking India very high in terms of restrictiveness.

‘Reliable mechanism’

•India has come up with a “better and more reliable” mechanism to measure restrictiveness in the services trade, and has approached China, Brazil, Indonesia, Turkey and South Africa to highlight the importance of the new system. Representatives of all these countries were in New Delhi on Monday and Tuesday for a WTO meeting.

•“Not only does the alternative indicator satisfy all the statistical properties, but it is also shown to be correct for most of the limitations of the OECD methodology, and hence, can be used as a better indicator of the true [policy] position of an economy,” the study said.

πŸ“° Ban on LTTE extended by five more years

‘It keeps indulging in disruptive activities’

•The Centre on Tuesday extended the ban on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for five more years for violent and disruptive activities which are prejudicial to the integrity and sovereignty of India. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) renewed its 2014 notification to declare the terror outfit behind the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi as an ‘unlawful association’ for another five years.

•India had banned the LTTE after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991.

•In the notification, the MHA said the LTTE “continues to adopt a strong anti-India posture as also continues to pose a grave threat to the security of Indian nationals, so it is necessary to declare the LTTE as an unlawful association with immediate effect.”

•The Ministry also said the “diaspora continue to spread through articles on Internet portals anti-India feeling among the Sri Lankan Tamils by holding the Government of India responsible for the defeat of the LTTE and such propaganda through Internet, which remains continued, is likely to impact Very Very Important Persons [VVIP] security adversely in India.”

Eelam concept

•The MHA said that even after its military defeat in 2009 May in Sri Lanka, the LTTE had not abandoned the concept of ‘Eelam’ (separate land for Tamils) and had been clandestinely working towards the cause by undertaking fund raising and propaganda activities.

•“The remnant LTTE leaders or cadres have also initiated efforts to regroup the scattered activists and resurrect the outfit locally and internationally,” the Centre said.

πŸ“° U.S. trade office targets $300 bn Chinese imports

Tariff hike proposed on 3,805 goods

•The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) on Monday published plans to increase tariffs on 3,805 Chinese imports, valued at about $300 billion. The move was expected since the end of last week and means that almost all Chinese goods entering the U.S. will be taxed at a higher rate, if the policy is implemented.

•Monday’s proposed list of goods that will now attract up to 25% tariffs includes laptops, mobile phones, clothing, motorbikes and toys. Pharmaceuticals will be excluded.

•“What’s been left out so far, presumably for political reasons, is the consumer side of Chinese imports into the U.S. This latest list of $300 billion picks that up, “Joshua P. Meltzer, a global economics and trade specialist at Brookings, a Washington DC based think-tank, told The Hindu .

•“How much of the negative impact of these tariffs, if they go through, depends on how much firms pass on to consumers and the extent to which this backfires on Trump politically also depends on consumers making the link between any price increases and the trade conflict with China,” Mr. Meltzer said.

•The USTR has announced a request for comments from the public by June 17 and a public hearing on the tariff proposition on that day, days before U.S. President Donald Trump is set to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in Japan at the G-20 leaders summit.

•“Slapping tariffs on everything U.S. companies import from China — goods that support U.S. manufacturing and provide consumers with affordable products — will jeopardize American jobs and increase costs for consumers,” National Retail Federation President Matthew Shay said, according to the news agency Reuters.

πŸ“° Project to use technology to study crop yield estimates

Will reduce delay in settling insurance claims by farmers, increase accuracy

•In a bid to reduce the delay of crop insurance claim settlements and increase the accuracy of compensation due to farmers, a pilot project will test the use of technology to determine yield estimates at the panchayat level this summer.

•Technologies such as satellite and remote sensing data, unmanned aerial vehicles and artificial intelligence will be used to assess yield estimates without the need of time-consuming and laborious crop-cutting experiments, according to the parameters of the project issued.

•“Crop yield information is essential for the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana to work, but the number of CCEs needed for accurate determination of yields have increased multi-fold. PMFBY guidelines call for four CCEs at the gram panchayat level…The number of CCEs for production estimates itself may go up six to seven times,” says Shibendu Shankar Ray, director of the Mahalanobis National Crop Forecast Centre, which is overseeing the project.

•The current methodology of yield estimation is also affected by the lack of current year information at the time of planning of CCEs, thus affecting the precision of estimates.

Encouraging results

•The Agriculture Ministry has tried several methods to deal with this situation, including smart sampling methods to improve the way CCEs are selected, as well as the use of technology to reduce the number of CCEs needed through accurate extrapolation methods. The pilot project to optimise CCEs through technology was carried out in 11 States in kharif season 2018 and in the ongoing rabi season 2018-19. “The results have been encouraging, and there is a proposal to roll out some of these technologies for certain crops in certain areas in the next season if all stakeholders agree,” he said.

•The new study, to be carried out in the kharif 2019, aims to directly estimate yields without using CCEs. The pilot project will focus on paddy, soybean, cotton, bajra, maize, sorghum and groundnut. Technologies to be used include satellite data, unmanned aerial vehicles, advanced intelligent crop simulation models, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things. Final results are expected by February 2020.

πŸ“° India finds OECD index for services trade faulty

Among other ‘flaws’, STR Index shows Indian services sector as highly restrictive in areas such as FDI, says study by Ministry

•India has found problems with the current method under which the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) ranks countries based on their services trade policies, indicating the outcomes are biased and counter-intuitive.

•Launched in 2014, the Services Trade Restrictiveness Index (STRI), computed by the OECD, is now available for 2018 for a total of 45 economies (36 OECD and the rest non-OECD) and 22 sectors.

•The OECD index has a large number of problems associated with it, including some significant design issues that render it impractical for use, a study commissioned by the Commerce Ministry found.

•“For example, the index seems to show the Indian services sector as one of the most restrictive, particularly in policy areas like foreign entry,” the study, reviewed by The Hindu, said.

•“This seems surprising as since 1991, the one area that has seen maximum liberalisation in India is FDI.”

Liberalisation of FDI

•“The Ministry said it seems funny that India’s foreign entry restrictions are being classified as being the most restrictive when we know that since 1991, if anything has been liberalised, it’s foreign investment,” said Manoj Pant, director, Indian Institute of Foreign Trade and the author of the study.

•“Initial work suggests that there are both theoretical and empirical inconsistencies in the OECD methodology,” the report added. “For example, change in regulatory measures in one policy area can lead to dramatic changes in the STRI in another policy area which is not very useful for policy purposes.”




•“In addition, the data seems to have been generated by rather arbitrary procedures and reflects a developed country bias,” the report concluded.

•In order to rectify this, Mr. Pant and his team of econometricians designed a new way of measuring restrictiveness in the services trade that would be more robust and would not have a bias either for developed or developing countries.

Building consensus

•India has approached several developing countries during the recently-concluded World Trade Organization talks in New Delhi to try to build consensus around the new method of measuring trade restrictiveness in the services sector.

•“We have currently approached China, Brazil, Indonesia, Turkey, and South Africa,” Mr. Pant said.

•“We had also planned on Malaysia, but they have not come.

•“The manufacturing trade has a well-documented system of classification of commodities through which you can tell exactly what the commodity is and also what the applied tariffs and effective tariffs are, and, hence, see how restrictive any country’s policies are,” Mr. Pant explained.

•The problem in services, he explained, is that for a long time there wasn’t any way to know whether a country’s policies were restrictive. “Even if you could ascertain that, one didn’t know what to do about it since services trade is usually regulated by domestic regulations and not border tariffs.

•“There have been surprisingly few attempts at quantifying the restrictiveness of the services trade,” Mr. Pant said.

πŸ“° Implementation issues in 10% reservation

A well-designed assignment mechanism is vital for the quota for economically weaker sections to work

•A new Constitution amendment provides 10% reservation to individuals from economically weaker sections (EWS) in the general category for government jobs and educational institutions in India. This law raises several implementation questions. Under the law, EWS applicants may even find it harder to obtain positions. These problems can be addressed using the science of matching theory.

•Boston, where we are based, faced similar implementation challenges with its school assignment system. Like India, thousands of school assignments in Boston are made using a matching process with a system of reserves. In part due to our interaction with Boston officials, the city moved to a scientifically sound implementation of their policies. Boston’s experience holds important lessons for India.

Unreserved to reserved

•Until now, India’s main reserve-eligible groups have been Scheduled Castes, Scheduled Tribes, and Other Backward Classes. In job and university assignments, there is a widespread tradition of first assigning a reserved category applicant to an unreserved position if he or she qualifies on the basis of merit alone. When unreserved positions are exhausted, a reserved category applicant may then be considered for a reserved position. A meritorious reserved candidate (MRC) is a reserved category applicant, who is tentatively assigned to an unreserved position.

•When the assignment involves multiple types of jobs or universities, the existence of MRCs raises two important questions. One, can an MRC move to a reserve position for a more preferred job or university place if he or she is tentatively holding a less preferred unreserved position? Two, if such movement is allowed, what happens to the newly vacated seat?

•A 2004 Supreme Court decision in Anurag Patel v. U.P. Public Service Commission mandates that an MRC is entitled to move or “migrate” to the more preferred assignment. A 2010 Supreme Court decision in Union of India v. Ramesh Ram & Ors answers the second question for the case of public sector job assignments. It specifies that the newly vacated position is to be given to a candidate from the general category, who is not eligible for any reservation. That is, even if there is a more deserving reserved category applicant — say, another MRC who received a less preferred position — the newly available unreserved position can go to a potentially lower-scoring applicant from the general category. Therefore, one unintended consequence of this judgment is that the cut-off score for reserved category candidates can be higher than the cut-off score for the general category.

•At present, a small fraction of unreserved positions are tentatively assigned to reserved category applicants. This means that the number of meritorious reserved candidates is relatively modest compared to the number of unreserved positions. But with the new EWS reservation amendment, a large fraction of general category applicants are expected to qualify as economically weak. This means that a large share of unreserved positions will be tentatively assigned to the EWS category. As a result, there will be many more meritorious reserved candidates. And the positions they vacate due to migration are to be offered to the general category candidates who do not qualify for EWS reservation due to Ramesh Ram . This may result in a reduction in the number of positions offered to those in the EWS category.

•For example, under the system used by the Union Public Service Commission to allocate the most sought-after government jobs in India, such as in the Indian Administrative Service, a non-EWS applicant from the general category would take newly vacated positions following migration, increasing their overall share. In all likelihood, the cut-off scores will be higher for EWS candidates than for non-EWS general category applicants, meaning it’s harder for the poor to qualify than the rich. Creating such a large reserved category results in a big challenge to the implementation of Ramesh Ram , or any system based on the idea of a meritorious reserved candidate.

Horizontal or vertical?

•Another implementation challenge with the new amendment is that the new law does not explicitly state whether the new EWS reservation is horizontal or vertical. This is despite the clear distinction made in the landmark judgment in Indra Sawhney v. Union of India (1992).

•A horizontal reservation is a ‘minimum guarantee’, which only binds when there are not enough EWS applicants who receive a position on the basis of their merit score alone; if so, the bottom-ranked general category selections are knocked out by the top-ranked unselected EWS candidates. With a large number expected to qualify for EWS, the 10% minimum guarantee will already be achieved essentially in all applications. This means the policy, if applied horizontally, will virtually have no effect.

•A vertical reservation, on the other hand, is an ‘over and beyond’ reservation. This means that if an applicant obtains a position on the basis of his or her merit score without the benefit of the reservation, it does not reduce the number of reserved positions. This important distinction appears not to have been a part of discussions leading up to the passage of the law. A government memo suggests that the new EWS reservation might be vertical, but it is important that this issue be clarified.

•We have seen first-hand how challenging these notions can be in practice. Boston originally had a neighbourhood reserve for half of each school’s seats. Officials were not clear whether this neighbourhood reserve is a minimum guarantee or an over-and-beyond allotment. When the Mayor advocated for increasing neighbourhood reserves, there was a great deal of confusion and anger about the underlying policy. Our research showed that Boston had effectively negated the neighbourhood reservation, by applying a horizontal implementation. The original intention of Boston’s policy, however, was to have an over-and-beyond neighbourhood reserve, as in the vertical implementation. Transparency about these issues brought about an entirely new system.

•These issues can be resolved using a well-designed assignment mechanism and transparent rules about processing of reserves. Our experience in Boston generated academic literature which has gone on to influence assignment practice throughout the U.S. Our research shows how it is possible to adapt these mechanisms for India and satisfactorily implement reservation policies, as they are envisioned in Indra Sawhney.

•Lack of clarity on implementation opens up possibilities to distort or even manipulate outcomes, undermining policy goals. It can confuse the public and keep university or job assignments in limbo for years as courts process legal challenges. India’s new EWS reservation policy is heading in this direction unless these implementation issues are addressed head-on.

πŸ“° Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary is tiger kingdom of the State

Holds the largest tiger population in Kerala

•Here tigers roam without fear, and it shows in their numbers.

•A monitoring programme of the Forest Department for 2017-18 has found that the Wayanad Wildlife Sanctuary (WWS) , a biodiversity hotspot in the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, holds the largest tiger population in the State.

•The study was organised in association with the Parambikulam and Periyar Tiger Conservation Foundations.

75 in sanctuary

•“Of the total 176 tigers in the State, 75 were identified from the WWS, which is part of a large forest complex holding the single largest population of tigers in India,” B.N. Anjan Kumar, Chief Conservator of Forest (Wildlife), said of the study.

•Nine tigers had also been captured by camera stations set up at the North and South Wayanad forest divisions.

Periyar, Parambikulam

•The Periyar and Parambikulam tiger reserves followed suit, where 25 tigers each were captured in camera traps, Mr. Kumar said.

•“There are no tigers in the Idukki Wildlife Sanctuary and the adjoining Kottayam and Kothamangalam forest divisions as the landscape is cut off from the adjacent mainland (Munnar and Malayattoor forest divisions). The Kasaragod forest division is highly fragmented and degraded and does not show tiger evidence,” he said. Camera traps, where tigers are identified from photographs based on unique stripe patterns, were used to count the tiger population, Mr. Kumar, who supervised the project, said.

•The forest area in the State was divided into 10 landscapes and 1,640 camera traps were set up.

•It took nearly a year-and-a-half to complete the project. Close to 500 trained front line forest staff participated in the endeavour.

•The Nilambur North and South forest divisions were excluded from the study as camera traps could not be set up in the forests due to Maoist issues. These areas are expected to support a good tiger population.

•“Demographic simulation suggests that cubs (below one year) may comprise roughly 25% of a healthy tiger population. However, cubs are not included in the data as they have to reach three years of age (mortality rate of cubs is high). Thus, the forests are home to about 250 individuals that may or may not be part of home ranges within the Kerala forests,” he said.

Potential for reserve

•“As the WWS and the adjoining tiger reserves in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu constitute a major tiger habitat in the country, the sanctuary has the potential to get the status of a tiger reserve. Such an initiative needs the support of the public,” says Chief Wildlife Warden Surendra Kumar.

•Such a move would help get more funds to effectively implement projects to mitigate man-animal conflict in the area, he said.

πŸ“° Facing the climate emergency

The politics of the climate crisis needs a radical transformation — people’s movements are a spark of hope

•A recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the U.S.A.shows that global warming during the past half century has contributed to a differential change in income across countries. Already wealthy countries have become wealthier and developing countries have been made poorer in relative terms during this time. India’s GDP growth penalty between 1961 and 2010 is in the order of 31% for the period, whereas Norway gained about 34% on a per capita basis. More recently, the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services has reported that, worldwide, the abundance of species has reduced by at least one-fifth, about a million species are under threat of extinction in the next few decades and 85% of wetlands have been lost.

•None of these stunning scientific findings made banner headlines. The Economic Advisory Council to the Prime Minister did not hold an emergency meeting to discuss the loss of economic output because of climate change or the effects from loss of biodiversity in India. The manifestos of the political parties contesting the Indian general election barely took note of questions relating to climate and environment. Instead, it is “business as usual” or “life as usual” in the familiar news cycles of bickering and politics.

Instances of collusion

•What we have, moreover, are numerous instances of elite networks that are taking advantage of the situation to consolidate their control. These networks often involve governments actively or quiescently colluding with fossil fuel companies, agro-industrial elites, financial elites and other big businesses that are ignoring climate change and making a fast buck often even from the growing disasters. The International Monetary Fund estimates in a recent working paper that fossil fuel subsidies were $4.7 trillion in 2015 and estimated to be $5.2 trillion in 2017. It goes on to say that efficient fossil fuel pricing would have reduced global carbon emissions by 28%.

•The Arctic is melting rapidly and the tenor of the recent discussions among Arctic countries suggests that even as increasing glacier melt is responsible for opening up shipping in the area, superpowers are angling to access wealth from the oil, gas, uranium and precious metals in the region.

•Mozambique recently had two successive intense cyclones, Idai and Kenneth, with widespread devastation. In an article in The Nation , Dipti Bhatnagar, a local activist, describes how big oil and energy companies have been eager to tap into Mozambique’s liquid natural gas, with large banks from many countries involved in the financing. In 2013, bank loans for $2 billion were guaranteed by the Mozambican government. When the government defaulted on its loans and the currency plummeted, it left behind a trail of woes. The story in Mozambique is of how “corrupt local elites collude with plundering foreign elites” and enrich themselves and their partners, while the people are left to bear the burden of debt.

•While this kind of corruption may not be new, various versions of this are played out in other countries. Governments’ corporate cronies and plundering elites, of course, need not be foreign. Environmental laws can be broken by old boys’ networks with impunity as penalties are cancelled by a party in control. It is the poorest and those without access to power who become victims of the fallout from these situations. Another recent example is the draft Indian Forest Act of 2019, which enhances the political and police power of the forest department and curtails the rights of millions of forest dwellers.

Ear to the ground

•Policies and commitments make it clear that most governments and businesses are not interested in dealing with the climate and ecological crises. They will certainly not give these the central attention they deserve in these times of an emergency; they barely even acknowledge them. Luckily, what we are witnessing is a large-scale movement for “planet emergency”, climate and ecology. Greta Thunberg has been leading this among school-going children, and Extinction Rebellion has been organising “die-ins” in many parts of Europe and now in Asia. Their non-violent civil disobedience is just what is needed and it is indeed inspiring to see children and grandparents protest together. People’s movements, whether made up of students or adults, cannot be ignored for long and governments will have to pay attention.

•The atmosphere now has concentrations of over 415 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide, compared to 280 ppm in pre-industrial times. But then, fossil fuel companies and politicians have known about climate change for at least 30 years. They have funded misinformation regarding climate directly, taking lessons from tobacco companies that propagated lies for decades about cigarettes being safe. The documentary film Merchants of Doubt describes how a handful of scientists have obscured the truth on global warming so that business profits can continue to flow. The fossil fuel industry has also funded politicians, so their words and laws are already bought.

About a major overhaul

•The only solutions that governments and business are looking for are those that enable them to carry on as before. But the planet is well past that point where small fixes can help take us on a long path to zero carbon earth. We are now at a stage where we need major overhaul of our lifestyles and patterns of consumption. The U.K. Parliament became the first recently to declare a climate emergency. It remains to be seen if appropriate actions will follow this declaration. When a 16-year-old speaks with far greater clarity and conviction than the thousands of dithering policy wonks who have been debating for over three decades, we know the politics of the climate crisis must undergo a radical transformation.



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