The HINDU Notes – 29th May 2019 - VISION

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Wednesday, May 29, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 29th May 2019

πŸ“° India gave right of passage to Pakistan Minister’s plane

But he cancelled the trip following blasts in Colombo

•India granted permission for Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s aircraft to fly over the country for his visit to Male and Colombo, a gesture that would be reciprocated by Pakistan for External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj a fortnight later, despite a ban by Pakistan on the use of its airspace for flights approaching from its eastern side after traversing India.

•Both the Indian and the Pakistani officials have confirmed that Pakistan requested for a passage for Mr. Qureshi’s flight to Male on May 2 and for his return flight from Colombo on May 4. Mr. Qureshi, however, cancelled the trip following the bomb attacks in Sri Lanka.

•“We issued clearance for Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi’s aircraft transit in one day. That they chose to cancel the trip is another matter. Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), on the other hand, took 10 days to issue the clearance for Ms. Swaraj’s flight. They have not reciprocated in equal measure the goodwill that we extended,” according to a Defence source.

•Two weeks later, Pakistan allowed Ms. Swaraj’s aircraft for the SCO meet in Kyrgyzstan’s capital Bishkek on May 22 and 23.

•The give-and-take unfolded in the middle of a heated election season, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP leaders had repeatedly raked up the Balakot air strike.

•Pakistan closed its airspace after the IAF strike on a Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camp in Balakot on February 26.

πŸ“° Sri Lanka, Japan & India sign deal to develop container terminal

New Delhi’s role in the project became a flashpoint in 2018

•Sri Lanka, Japan and India on Tuesday signed an agreement to jointly develop the East Container Terminal at the Colombo Port.

•The joint initiative is estimated to cost between $500 million and $700 million, a senior official of the Ministry of Ports, Shipping and Southern Development told The Hindu .

•The signing of the Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC) is significant, given that the countries had been negotiating the deal since last year with little success.

•As per the agreement signed on Tuesday, the Sri Lanka Ports Authority (SLPA) retains 100% ownership of the East Container Terminal (ECT), while the Terminal Operations Company is jointly owned, the SLPA said in a statement.

•Sri Lanka will hold a 51% stake in the project and the joint venture partners will retain 49%. The ECT is located some three km away from the China-backed international financial city, known popularly as “port city”.

40-year soft loan

•“Japan is likely to provide a 40-year soft loan with a 0.1% interest rate,” said Sudarshana Gunawardana, director of development communications at the Prime Minister’s office. The SLPA described the “envisaged Japanese loan” as “one of the best loan terms Sri Lanka has obtained”.

•Details of India’s contribution to the initiative are awaited, but New Delhi’s interest in partnering the project is well known. Over 70% of the trans-shipment business at the strategically located ECT is linked to India, according to official sources.

•However, last year, India’s possible role in developing the terminal had become a major flashpoint within the government. President Maithripala Sirisena had opposed any Indian involvement in the project, as roping in foreign actors for developing “national assets” remains a politically sensitive call in the island, especially among nationalist trade unions. Mr. Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe had a heated argument on the matter during a Cabinet meeting in October 2018, with the PM apparently more inclined towards allowing Indian participation.

πŸ“° Foreign occupation should end, says Taliban

‘U.S. presence an obstacle to peace’

•Senior Taliban officials, including the group’s top political adviser, met with Afghan political figures in Moscow on Tuesday, saying that they were committed to peace in Afghanistan — even as U.S.-led talks appear to have stalled.

•Taliban co-founder and political leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar said that the insurgents want an end to 18 years of conflict but would only sign a deal after foreign forces quit Afghanistan. The Taliban are “really committed to peace, but think the obstacle for peace should be removed first”, Mr. Baradar said in a rare televised appearance at the start of the two-day meeting marking 100 years of diplomatic ties between Russia and Afghanistan.

•“The obstacle is the occupation of Afghanistan, and that should end,” he added.

•Tuesday’s Moscow meeting once again cut out senior members of President Ashraf Ghani’s government.

•However, Afghan politicians — including former President Hamid Karzai and candidates challenging Mr. Ghani in a presidential election slated for September — were present. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who opened Tuesday’s meeting, said Russia and Afghanistan have “a shared aim — fighting terrorism” and reiterated that Moscow supports a complete withdrawal of foreign forces.

πŸ“° China rejects U.S. call for dialogue with Dalai Lama

Beijing opposes ‘foreign interference’

•China on Tuesday rejected U.S. Ambassador Terry Branstad’s call to Beijing to engage in “substantive dialogue” with the Dalai Lama, saying that it was firmly opposed to “foreign interference” in Tibet and its internal affairs.

•Mr. Branstad, during his visit to Tibet last week, had asked the Chinese government to “engage in substantive dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives without preconditions, to seek a settlement that resolves differences,” according to a U.S. Embassy spokeswoman.

•Asked about the U.S. envoy’s call for dialogue with the Dalai Lama, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told media that Chinese officials had briefed the Ambassador about China’s religious and ethnic policies and also about socio-economic development in Tibet.

•“The Chinese government’s policy on dialogue and contact with the Dalai Lama and foreigners access to Tibet [were made clear to the Ambassador]. Finally, it was also stressed that China firmly opposes any foreign interference in Tibet affairs and in China’s domestic affairs,” said Mr. Kang.

πŸ“° Attacks on Afghan schools tripled: UN

•The number of attacks on schools in Afghanistan nearly tripled last year, UNICEF said on Tuesday, cutting children’s access to education amid worsening security in the nation.

•Attacks on Afghan schools increased from 68 in 2017 to 192 in 2018, the first increase in such incidents since 2015.

•Afghanistan’s war resulted in more than 1,000 schools being closed by the end 2018, UNICEF said, depriving some 5,00,000 children of their right to learning. “Education is under fire in Afghanistan,” said UNICEF executive director Henrietta Fore.

•About 3.7 million school children between the ages of seven and 17 — accounting for almost half of all children in Afghanistan of school-going age — are not attending school, according to the UN agency.

πŸ“° ‘Burnout is not a medical condition’

•The World Health Organization said on Tuesday that “burnout” remains an “occupational phenomenon” that could lead someone to seek care but it is not considered a medical condition.

•The clarification came a day after the WHO mistakenly said it had listed burnout in its International Classification of Diseases (ICD) for the first time.

•The World Health Assembly, WHO’s main annual meeting which wrapped up on Tuesday, approved at the weekend the latest catalogue of diseases and injuries, collectively known as the ICD-11.

•While burnout was listed in the previous version, the ICD-10, its definition has been changed in the latest edition of the text.

•WHO has now defined burnout as “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”.

πŸ“° Scientists give the thumbs-up for Anthropocene epoch

•On May 21, a 34-member panel of the Anthropocene Working Group (AWG) voted 29-4 in favour of designating a new geological epoch — the Anthropocene.

•The vote signals the end of the Holocene Epoch, which began 11,700 years ago.

•According to Nature , the panel plans to submit a formal proposal for the new epoch by 2021 to the International Commission on Stratigraphy, which oversees the official geologic time chart.

•That nearly 90% voted in favour of a naming the new epoch to reflect how the Earth has been shaped by human activity, is not surprising, as an informal vote had already conducted three years ago in Cape Town at the 2016 International Geological Congress.

•The term ‘Anthropocene’ was coined in 2000 by Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer to denote the present geological time interval in which human activity has profoundly altered many conditions and processes on Earth.

•According to the AWG, the phenomena associated with the Anthropocene include an order-of-magnitude increase in erosion and sediment transport associated with urbanisation and agriculture, marked and abrupt anthropogenic perturbations of the cycles of elements such as carbon, environmental changes generated by these perturbations, including global warming, sea-level rise, and ocean acidification, rapid changes in the biosphere and finally proliferation and global dispersion of many new ‘minerals’ and ‘rocks’ including concrete, fly ash and plastics, and the myriad ‘technofossils’ produced from these and other materials.

A golden spike

•The focus is now on identifying a definitive geologic marker or golden spike (technically called Global boundary Stratotype Section and Point) to signal the beginning of the Anthropocene Epoch. The golden spike must be present globally and should be a part of deposits for geological record.

•Many in the AWG believe that artificial radionuclides spread across the world by atomic bomb tests from the early 1950s would serve as the golden spike. The radionuclides are present almost everywhere — from marine sediments to ice layers and even stalagmites and stalactites.

•Once a formal proposal is made by the AWG, it will be considered by several more groups of the International Commission on Stratigraphy.

•The final ratification will be made by the executive committee of the International Union of Geological Sciences.

πŸ“° Exotic Kappaphycus alvarezii seaweed poses threat to coral reef

The species has spread to coral reef areas in Valai island along Kilakarai coast in the Gulf of Mannar

•The invasive Kappaphycus alvarezii seaweed, which smothers and kills coral reefs, has spread its wings to coral reef areas in Valai island in the Gulf of Mannar (GoM) and set to invade new coral colonies in the marine national park.

•After invading Shingle, Kurusadai and Mulli islands in Mandapam cluster of the GoM, the red algae invaded Valai island along Kilakarai coast following its cultivation in south Palk Bay. A 2005 Government Order had restricted cultivation of the exotic seaweed only to the seawaters north of the Palk Bay and South of Thoothukdi coast.

•The Reef Research Team (RRT) of Suganthi Devadason Marine Research Institute (SDMRI), Thoothukudi, after an elaborate underwater survey, observed that the destructive algae had invaded the reef areas of Valai Island and sounded an alarm bell in its report submitted to the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFC) on February 21, details of which were made available to The Hindu .

•The institute undertook the four-year project, ‘Studies on the impact of the exotic seaweed, Kappaphycus alvarezii on corals, and the associated resources, and management measures in the Gulf of Mannar Marine National Park’, funded by the MoEFC.

•The research team counted 32 coral colonies of Acropora nobilis affected by Kappaphycus algae and the area of impact was 15-20 square metres, J.K. Patterson Edward, Director, SDMRI, said. The algae was firmly attached to the coral colonies and started forming mat over them, he said, adding it would eventually smother and kill corals.

•“It is most likely that Kappaphycus alvarezii would spread to new live coral colonies and cause significant coral mortality in Valai Island,” he said. Detached mats of the algae were also seen along the shores of the island and nearby Thalaiyari island, he said.

•“Yes, the destructive seaweed has invaded coral colonies in Valai island and posed a threat to other coral colonies,” said T.K. Ashok Kumar, Wildlife Warden, GoM Marine National Park, who inspected the island area along with SDMRI researchers recently.

•The Forest department would take up the issue with agencies, which promoted cultivation of the seaweed. The department had been carrying out manual removal of the seaweed every year since 2014 to protect coral reefs, he said.

•Macrofaunal and fish density decreased when Kappaphycus cover increased, the SDMRI report said.

πŸ“° Post Balakot, Indian Air Force zeroes in on key vulnerability

Faces shortage of crucial Airborne Warning & Control System

•Drawing lessons from the Balakot air strike, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has identified a shortage of Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft to provide round-the-clock surveillance as a major deficiency, IAF officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

•The air strike and the aerial engagement that followed in February were discussed in detail at the recent Air Force Commanders’ conference.

Resource optimisation

•“The biggest lesson of February 27 was the need to have a core of high-end fighters for short skirmishes,” a senior IAF official said.

•“If we had the technological advantage, we could have imposed costs on the adversary,” the official asserted, adding, “We need to undertake resource optimisation.”

•For that, the IAF is banking on the soon-to-be-inducted Rafale fighters, the tender currently under way for a new fighter aircraft and the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) MK-2 that is being developed, even as upgrades to the existing platforms make up for the shortages in the interim. “We also need to get better propaganda weapons,” the official said, without elaborating.

Remedial measures

•While aircraft induction is a long-term measure, in the short term, the IAF has identified AWACS, Software Defined Radios (SDR) and close-in weapons systems as immediate requirements. The process for their procurement is already in advanced stages.

•“We did not feel that we need anything new,” the official said, adding that everything had been thought of. “The process is on, that has to be hastened.”

Advantage Pakistan

•Pakistan currently has an advantage as they have more AWACS. “They have seven AWACS and could keep one on our side at all times,” the official said.

•In contrast, the IAF operates three Israeli Phalcon AWACS and two indigenous Netra Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) system developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). Also, the platforms are not available all the time.

•The IAF is now set to take the third Netra system (mounted on Embraer aircraft) from the DRDO, the official said.

•Separately, a proposal for two more Phalcon AWACS has been in the works for a long time. It is now “pending final approval of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).”

•A deal for SDRs has been signed with Elbit Systems of Israel and the process for close-in weapons is at the technical evaluating stage.

πŸ“° Malaysia to send back 450 tonnes of plastic waste

Minister urges developed nations to ‘stop shipping garbage to our country’

•Hundreds of tonnes of imported plastic waste will be shipped back to where it came from, Malaysia said on Tuesday, insisting that the country did not want to be a global dumping ground.

•China had previously taken a large amount of waste for recycling, but abruptly stopped last year, saying it wanted to improve its own environment.

•Now, Southeast Asian countries that stepped in to plug this gap say they have had enough. “We urge developed countries to stop shipping garbage to our country,” said Yeo Bee Yin, Malaysia’s Minister of Energy, adding that it was “unfair and uncivilised”. “We will return it back to the country of origin without any mercy,” she said, after an inspection of several waste-filled containers at Port Klang, the country’s busiest port.

Imports have tripled

•Plastic imports to Malaysia have tripled since 2016, to 8,70,000 tonnes last year, official data showed.

•The Ministry said 450 tonnes of contaminated plastic waste in 10 containers — from Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, China, Japan, Saudi Arabia and the United States — will be shipped back.

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